Imagineering a New World of Personal Data Ownership

(and the end of broadcast advertising)

Courtesy Kosta Peric

Benjamin Franklin famously tracked 13 personal virtues in a daily journal to push himself toward moral perfection. He shared this insight in his autobiography:

“I was surprised to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined, but I had the satisfaction of seeing them diminish.” — Benjamin Franklin

The take away from Uncle Ben? Tracking your performance in almost any endeavour invariably leads to improvements.

Can tracking our personal online and digital behaviour lead to a better life?

There’s a tracking transformation happening today. Advancements have not only made data collection cheaper and more convenient, but it’s allowing us to quantify data we never knew existed. Want to know your sleep patterns, miles cycled, insulin and cortisol levels, sequence your DNA, or learn what microbial cells inhabit your body? You can quantify that now.

This is the Quantified Self. In short, it is self-knowledge through self-tracking.

This explosion of new personal information is growing beyond simple bodily measures — such as heart rate, weight, exercise regime and eating habits — to include more sophisticated behavioural measures such as levels of motivation, mood, stress, travel and meeting plans. More importantly, this information is being integrated, analysed and presented back to the user to help make future decisions. Add the Internet of Things into the mix and it’s now possible to measure and track our entire world, while generating masses of data. Want to know the pH level in your garden or your pool? There’s an app for that. Want to know what’s running low in your fridge, from the office? Simple. Want to track the movements of your children? Big Data makes it all possible.

It’s often said that data is the new world currency, and that web and app stores are the exchanges through which it’s traded. As users, we have willingly traded our personal data for the privilege of using free services: Google, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and others. In short, we’ve become the product.

Lately, though, there’s been a shift toward more considerate personal data collection and selective sharing. More and more individuals are building personal data portfolios containing biographical and biological information, skills, abilities and experience, job history, remuneration, preferences, performance assessments, personality assessments and other useful personal information. Their LinkedIn profile is a simple example of these new types of portfolios. They keep it up to date to have the best chance of securing their next job, contract, life or business partner. Health and fitness data is increasingly shared with doctors to improve the accuracy of diagnoses.

Together with personal stores of health and behavioural data, it makes perfect sense that in the not too distant future, people will want technology mechanisms to selectively share all or parts of their data stores with an agent or chat-bot that represents their quest for advancement. Think, for example, of how an agent manages the career of a music artist.

This selective sharing of information is far more efficient than filling out new forms typically required during a job search or a visit to the doctor. Silicon Valley developer, Eric Elliott, and author of “Programming JavaScript Applications” (O’Reilly), has written about how his life changed after working with an agent. Is there any reason why a chat-bot agent couldn’t be equally as life-changing?

As people start taking ownership of their data and determining who can use it, the value of personal data is likely to grow. I’ve written previously that data is a natural resource created by, for and because of sovereign human beings. Data has proven a highly profitable revenue stream for many technology companies as shown by their market value:

  • Alphabet (Google) $504B
  • Facebook $347B
  • Baidu $58B
  • LinkedIn $16B
  • Twitter $10B
It makes perfect sense that in the near future we will have a Personal Data Exchange, where our personal data can be traded for personal profit.

Here’s how I see it working.

There are (at least) five important developments required:

  1. A wide-scale shift in consciousness which embraces personal data ownership and an acceptance that digital privacy does not exist;
  2. A shift from fiat money to factum money, in essence simply a balance sheet of value exchanges;
  3. A Decentralised Autonomous Organisation guided by self-governing and autonomously operating software, with its laws written immutably in the Blockchain;
  4. Smart Contracts that enforce themselves and decentralise trade;
  5. A fundamental change in advertising methods from mass broadcast (largely irrelevant) and Search Engine Optimisation (little chance for serendipitous discovery) to highly specific notifications, triggered by complex combinations of personal data, location data and environment data.

These required developments are complicated and extensive, implying that we will never achieve this state of Personal Data Nirvana, but I see encouraging signs every day that we are moving in this direction.

Watch the following brief demo of, a tech company that combines Internet of Things devices and Blockchain Smart Contracts. Their tagline is “Rent, sell or share anything — without middlemen. It’s the future infrastructure of the Sharing Economy.”

In short, wants to roll out smart locks that open when a user presents a cryptographic key. Imagine you are renting an Airbnb apartment and instead of someone bringing you a physical key, you are sent an immutable cryptographic key that opens the door via WiFi. In practice, you enter into a Blockchain Smart Contract with the owner of the apartment and the contract generates a unique key which is functional during the rental period. While watching the demo, imagine the contract between an AirBnB owner and renter being replaced by a contract between a data owner and a producer of products or service provider (previously known as an advertiser).

This new world of Personal Data Ownership represents an incredible opportunity for visionary advertising agencies ready to propose cutting-edge highly personalised campaigns powered by Artificial Intelligence and Big Data to their clients. The technology already exists, as does the need — traditional advertising campaigns are proving less and less effective as consumers learn to filter advertising. All that’s required is a visionary ad agency leader to articulate the future to their clients.

I’ve recently worked with two Artificial Intelligence startups who are both working on their version of a Personal Data Exchange, something HP Labs proposed but haven’t yet delivered. If you’re interested in how this might work for your agency, let’s share a coffee.

You made it to the end! Have you come across Postcards from 2035? It’s a series of profoundly simple interlinking ideas describing life in a highly desirable society, where everything and everyone is advanced, happy, intelligent and problem-free. It’s a blueprint of the world we need to co-create. Check it out!

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