Personal data as an asset class: creating a more valuable digital citizen

Irene Ng
Irene Ng
Nov 1, 2017 · 6 min read

In my last 2 posts I talked about how the fight for privacy is a fight for scraps and what we really want to fight for is economic power by being more superior digital citizens with our own tech capability which we can have with HATs.

This post talks about the data inside our HATs and why it’s a different type of personal data.

Back in 2011, The World Economic Forum, together with Bain, did us a favour by showing us how personal data generates wealth.

Here is the economic value chain.

Source: Bain and Company, World Economic Forum report, https://www.weforum.org/reports/personal-data-emergence-new-asset-class

There are thousands of companies in each of these spaces. They have made personal data into an asset class from its creation to its consumption. An entire ecosystem feeds on this asset by productising it to such an extent that it can be consumed by so many others whether it’s personalised Ads or personalised newspapers. It’s a bit like our personal data are the lumps of carbon in the ground and an entire industry has spawned to mine, ship, cut, and sell them as diamonds.

The important thing to remember is that this entire economic value chain does not come with a moral judgement. Businesses do what they can, what is legal and what gets them ahead. Personal data gets them ahead.

It is also important to remember that if we want economic power from our own data, we want them to work with us, and not have them work against us. There are 2 items in our favour.

First, at the Supply end, we are the ones who are the source. The raw material supply. The generator of the personal data. Co-produced with the organisations that have the technology to collect it, no doubt, but still the source of the supply.

Second, at the Demand end, we are the ones who consume the services that feed on personal data. Whether it’s watching ads, searching or reading our Facebook feed.

Yet, even if we are the beginning and the end (alpha and omega?), we have no control over the chain and the entire market that has emerged. What can we do?

Let’s call the personal data organisations hold as Organisation-controlled Personal Data – OPD or short. So all the data sloshing about is all OPD. And of course there is ONLY OPD to speak of. The entire economic value chain is not really an economic value chain of personal data, it’s the economic value chain for organisation-controlled personal data, OPD.

What if we now have an new supply in the ecosystem – PPD – Person controlled personal data. This ecosystem is hungry for it, could a feeding frenzy result? Perhaps. But how do you get PPD?

First the technology. Having our own personal microserver with a dedicated database just for our own data in such a way that we can pull and push data in and out of the database using cloud microservices would be a start. So we built the HAT for that.

Second, the law. Lawyers will tell you that only organisations are data controllers. But we created the tech to emulate everything an organisation would do to be a data controller so that we can be one as well. We also have to ensure the legal terms and conditions as well as the technology components is built in such a way that we truly legally have rights over these data and bringing OPD into our cloud databases is much like downloading our own data, implying that we are getting our data back as part of subject access, not as a third party service API request. So we did that too. That makes us data controllers and data subjects.

Third, the economic. We created an API cloud-based platform to make us able to give app makers, marketers, researchers real time, on demand, dynamic supply of PPD so that the PPD can rival OPD by creating wealth all along the economic value chain from creation, storage, aggregation, analysis, productisation to consumption. That’s what the HATDeX platform does.

Finally, we need to make PPD a better asset. This we do in 3 ways. First, breaking down all data in the HAT to allow the slicing and dicing of data to be shared whether the person wants to share just 7–9am location data to get coffee offers in the morning (without any identifiers), or Fitbit steps only when he is in New York. Second, we created the ability for the platform to take on personal AI that will reward data scientists with good algorithms that sit in the hat based on the output of the algorithms. Personal AI (trained algorithms) that analyse our own HAT data but outputs the result back into our own HATs for us to experience it, but also to share. So it’s not only PPD that is shareable, it’s PPD insights through personal AI (‘just bought a house’, ‘like photography’). And these insights can also be dynamically updated, and shareable on demand in real time by the user. Third, allow the ability to exchange PPD Futures where challenges can be created to exchange data even if it hasn’t been generated yet (‘run a marathon with Fitbit tomorrow’, ‘spend less next week’, ‘use 10% less water’).

Pretty cool, we think. So with a HAT and our PPD, we become a more valuable digital citizen.

Person-controlled personal data that is legally defined with a set of rights – most importantly, the right to give access to others on our terms. But where do we get a steady supply of PPD? Well, given GDPR, PSD2, it looks like harvesting season is beginning…. Time to mine the OPD!

If we assume the OPD is coproduced between us and the organisations, and the organisation has had a great time using it, surely now it’s our turn. Don’t forget, mining our PPD doesn’t deprive the organisation from still having the data. We can both have it. Through APIs, our HAT microserver can start pulling OPD into our HATs, transforming OPD to PPD. Let’s go claim it! A group of activists are already starting in this space.

And to create economic opportunities for startups in the digital economy, let’s spawn a new generation of apps using PPD by asking us for it directly! Research has shown us that personal data value is the highest in context of use (like data of your body measurements is really useful when you’re buying clothes online) so PPD consumption should be tied to apps/services online, which is why there is a whole innovation programme to get startups going on PPD by the HAT Community Foundation and the foundation is mobilising support to get all of us involved.

We think PPD is a superior form of personal data in this asset class not least because organisations are getting it directly from the source (us), higher quality (we use it ourselves for our own AI), combinable with other personal data. Let’s make future user accounts obsolete and have private data accounts on apps and web services that are our HAT microservers in partnership with organisations! We can make this personal data market better!

More importantly, more PPD comes into our HATs with our open source community without companies spending more money to get new data whenever they enter the ecosystem. With IoT makers all needing apps and user accounts, we believe PPD will grow as we are incentivised to acquire it for ourselves even if it’s just for privacy preserving AI. Startups and organisations can just build their personal data-hungry services and there would be proper competition for personal data spending as there is for spending money. The market for personal data that emerges would be the start of a good partnership for the future of the Internet and digital economy.

PS: We’ve been quietly building the platform and working only with our startups but finally, we think the HAT might be ready to come out to the end-user market. We are making final tweaks but you can get a HAT now. Stay in touch through our MadHATTERs magazine.

Hub of All Things

Technology that’s bringing about the future of personal data. Change the Internet.

Irene Ng

Written by

Irene Ng

CEO, Dataswift Ltd. https://dataswift.io; Director, HATLAB https://hat-lab.org; Professor, WMG, University of Warwick; Website http://ireneng.com

Hub of All Things

Technology that’s bringing about the future of personal data. Change the Internet.

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