Why shouldn’t we profit from our own data?
In the wake of Cambridge Analytica and a growing awareness of just how much data we all generate every year, people are becoming more and more concerned with how this data is being used. I won’t chime in on this debate, but instead I’d like to make a related point — if these companies are using my data, and making millions from it, why don’t I see any of the money?
The simple answer is that we all give our data away for free every day. More devices throughout your business than you might suspect collect data on your use patterns and anything else they can possibly detect or measure. You own the device or tool, but you’re letting it spill out your data for free. Ironically, it is using electricity you pay for to do it.
That device and/or sensor data is already out there.
Individual devices don’t have all that much data to distribute, but the total flow of information is huge. By some estimates there are 27 Billion IoT enabled devices in the world today (Internet of Things — machines which collect data and send it to other machines, without human intervention or attention). In 10–12 years there will be 125 billion. More than 10 for every person alive, and many more than that for people in the developed world.
In less than 10 years, these devices will be producing and transmitting more than 180 zettabytes of data per year. That’s a 18 followed by 22 zeroes. All of this data, if nothing changes, will be harvested, aggregated, repackaged and sold by companies to other companies without so much as a ‘thank you’. Fortunes will be made from this data, but as the owners of the devices and indeed the sources of the data, we won’t see a penny.
This is, in an important and meaningful way, our data. We should share in those profits, don’t you think? Well, a company called MXC is working to make that possible.
What is MXC doing, and how does it actually work?
MXC’s stated goal is to create a decentralized, global IoT economy. To make the data market something individuals and small companies can participate in, and profit from. They use blockchain technology to make the source (and original ownership) of each piece of data known and indelible. They are also building an LPWAN network to leverage this data, and make it turn a profit for people like us.
Better still, the system ensures your data is transmitted and stored in an encrypted format — you can share the decryption codes for particular data with paying customers, and any potential hackers or data thieves will get nothing but useless noise.
Now, this is one of those situations where we need to define some terms.
● What is the blockchain?
Blockchain technology was developed as part of the invention of Bitcoin in 2008. However, it has a great deal of potential beyond mere cryptocurrency. It is a way of creating a history chain for a piece of data, an encrypted, un-alterable history which will run with that data throughout its life. That means that data collected and distributed under this system is no longer nameless, anonymous bits. One can tell who bout it, who sold it, and where it originated. If it was sold with the proviso that some fraction of that sale price goes back to the original owner (that’s you and me), you can’t erase that record either.
You can read more about blockchain technology here.
● What is an LPWAN network?
A Low Power Wide-Area Network allows machines to communicate with each other directly and with central receivers. It draws very little power and has an extremely long range compared to your home or business wireless networks (WANs) but is very, very slow. It might only send a few thousand 1s and 0s every second, but that is more than enough for the usage data on a toaster, the error messages from a TV or the power consumption data for a concrete mixer.
So, MXC is making possible a revolution in how this data is collected, stored and paid for. Because the ownership of the data is encoded in the actual data, it never wholly belongs to anyone else. Universities, startups and even large corporations can search for the type of data they need, and buy it not from some third party company who owes you nothing, but in a way that sees you receive a fee.
Why would companies want to use blockchain-tagged data, anyway?
Your first thought, if you’re a sceptic like me, was probably ‘if that’s all true, why would a business use this data at all? Why not just use the free variety? Well, there are 2 very good reasons.
● First, most inexpensive datasets are of poor quality.
There are a lot of technical challenges associated with collecting IoT data at the moment. As a result, there is an unfortunate amount of simple garbage data in those huge datasets. It takes expensive data manipulation to filter all that out, so ‘cheap data’ isn’t ‘cheap’ by the time it can be used. That’s the only reason the Data can be re-sold at all — it usually needs refining, and the refined (useful) data is expensive.
● MCX’s system relies on the MXProtocol (Machine Xchange Protocol)
This is a newer and much more robust system for handling data over LPWAN networks. It is heavily decentralised, so that those corporations, universities or other organisations needing access to data can work directly with the people and businesses who have set up cloud-based repositories of their data. Literally anyone can set up such a repository, and profit form the use of their own data.
What might this mean for the data industry?
MCX’s innovation could really shake things up, in terms of making IoT data a much more visible, transparent and ethically trackable industry. More importantly for many, though, is the fact that any organisation can set itself up to secure and even profit form their own data.
It is ours, after all. Why shouldn’t we be the ones to sell it?