Providing clarity and choice on how personal data will be used brings trust between the individuals and the service provider. Trust is a better strategy for the long term than just exploiting users’ personal data to the extent permitted by law. When users can give or withhold their consent on different uses of their data, they can make informed decisions and find balance between the services they enjoy and their right to privacy.
No Free Lunch
Whenever you use a service for free, you’re not a customer, you’re a commodity to be profited from. Facebook’s business model is to sell well targeted ads. Google’s main income comes from their ad network. Having people and their personal data is an asset. Microsoft purchased LinkedIn recently, basically paying $65 for each of the 400 million users LinkedIn has.
Remember: If you’re not paying with money, you’re paying with something else, most likely your private data.
Advertisement has been around since the dawn of time, but never before could a merchant know the football clubs your family members support, and target the ads of their wares to you accordingly. Now they do. And as long as you understand and accept that this is happening, there’s no problem. Most of us probably don’t, though.
Who Owns You?
It’s getting a bit difficult to use web services without running into pages which have either Google analytics or Facebook like buttons or other similar potentially invisible widgets, which essentially will collect data on your browsing behavior and merge that with your profile when you at some point log in to their systems.
Add the data that Apple, Google, and Samsung can collect from the mobile devices of about 2 billion people, the photos and private messages that are exchanged on them, and the big platforms know an awful lot about us. Perhaps most telling was the study in 2013, whose very title says what the situation is: “Private traits and attributes are predictable from digital records of human behavior”.
I see no problem in companies collecting vast amounts of data from their users (or even customers), as long as they’re open about what they’re collecting, and they give the people sufficient controls around that data. For instance, some people might want to pay a monthly fee to access YouTube without having to watch ads, whereas others are happy to watch (and skip) the ads in order to get free cat videos. Currently, there’s no choice to be made.
The comprehensive answer to balancing the power around people’s personal data is called MyData.
What is MyData?
Put simply, MyData means that people own the data about them. People get to decide who collects what data, how it’s used and who gets access to it. For example, an individual could consent to their personal trainer getting access to their grocery shopping, so they get better health advice. Or the health records collected in one hospital could be transferred to other health providers with the person’s consent.
Here’s a more official definition of MyData:
“The term MyData refers 1) to a new approach, a paradigm shift in personal data management and processing that seeks to transform the current organization centric system to a human centric system, 2) to personal data as a resource that the individual can access and control. Personal data that is not under the respective individual’s own control cannot be called MyData.”
MyData is still a new thing, with most pioneer work centered in Finland, Europe. APIs, standards, infrastructure, business models, consent frameworks, they are all being developed. If you’re interested in participating in or following the development of these human centric data systems, I warmly recommend the international MyData2016 conference, to be held in Helsinki, Finland, 31.8.2016–2.9.2016.
LifeLearn Platform Will Have MyData at its Core
I joined the ranks of LifeLearn Platform partly because the initial concept ideas by our CEO Jussi Hurmola mentioned MyData. I can see the value of collecting detailed data on learning behavior, but I want it to be done responsibly so that the users or customers can make informed decisions about what that data is to be used for.
While our platform is still being built, there are no details yet, but as the minimum feature I can see an “Export and Delete” button, which allows you to get all your data in a structured data format, and delete it all from LifeLearn’s servers, at any time. As MyData standards become available in a year or two, LifeLearn will function as a standards compliant MyData data source and data sink, which can provide users’ learning data to other services (with the user’s consent), and receive data from other services to help users with their learning process.
MyData in Learning
In addition to the normal background profile data, networks of friends, and demographics that can be gathered from users, learning with the LifeLearn Platform can potentially generate even more detailed data. Here are some initial assumptions of the types of data we could collect, and allow the user to access and transfer onwards as their MyData:
- Study records, including already completed primary, secondary, and higher education diplomas, and non-formal industry certificates, if the user chooses to import them into their profile.
- Skill profiles detailing the skills and certifications they’ve earned in LifeLearn.
- Social certificate graphs, showing who have certified the user’s mastery of each skill (we may need to anonymize other people from this data…)
- Activity data on skill paths, including skill path enrollment, payments made, completions, drop-outs…
- Behavior with learning content: timing of learning activities, reading patterns, annotation and commenting patterns, and other activities
- Reviews on teachers, materials and skill paths.
In essence, all this data is available for the learner to use as they fit. It will also be available to the LifeLearn Platform to provide its services. But it’s the user who decides if they want to share some or all of that data with their friends, their parents, educational institutes, their employers, government bodies, and the like.
Constructing the MyData infrastructure is an impressive undertaking, and a worthy one. When done properly, it will allow people to retain their privacy, while allowing business innovation to truly benefit from the availability of private personal information — with the consent of the people involved. There are several topics of highly sensitive personal data (health and finances, for example), but we consider the data on learning to be very intimate, as it can reveal the very way people think. That’s why LifeLearn Platform is committed to the principles of MyData.
- Poikola, A., Kuikkaniemi, K., and Honko, H. (2015). MyData — A Nordic Model for human-centered personal data management and processing. Ministry of Transport and Communications of Finland. Available at (PDF): http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-243-455-5
- Kosinski, M., Stillwell, D., & Graepel, T. (2013). Private traits and attributes are predictable from digital records of human behavior. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(15), 5802–5805. http://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1218772110
About the Author
Tarmo Toikkanen is Chief Learning Scientist at LifeLearn Platform. He has over a decade of research experience in the fields of learning environments, participatory design, and educational psychology. His passion is to save the world by helping people learn and teach in better ways. This article is part of a series to explain LifeLearn Platform’s ideas on learning.