A New Deal for Personal Information Assets

Today we fire off a search engine query, walk up to rental car counter, or review a new credit card agreement and we’re presented with a set of “Terms” and a “Privacy Policy” either buried in fine print or in a link at the bottom of the web page that describe how that entity is going to use our personal information. Good luck trying to amend one of those agreements if you don’t like their terms. Negotiations over the use and abuse of personal information is a distinctly one sided proposition today.

for those who decide to continue to help themselves to our personal information assets, crowd negotiation also means crowd funding of litigation by channeling a small percentage of fee revenues into punishing those who abuse or misuse our information. This new deal for personal information asset access will dramatically disrupt every business model built on today’s one-sided personal information access agreements.”

This paradigm is about to undergo a seismic change. The “Help Yourself” all you can eat information buffet that has characterized the first two decades of the commercial Internet is about to close. The new deal for personal information assets will be driven by a combination of forces. While offering specific predictions around the new business models to arise on the personal information asset frontier is fraught with risks, it’s easier to describe the forces that will shape these new markets:

Topological_Data_Analysis

Tools for Managing Personal Information Property Rights – One hundred years ago, it was virtually impossible for small individual investors to safely participate in stock markets. Then, in the 1920s, we saw the rise of the open ended mutual fund. The collective investments of millions of small investors could be aggregated and professionally managed. Today the global mutual fund industry manages something north of $23 trillion in assets. The management fees alone on these assets are at least $150 billion annually. Another feature of the mutual fund industry is that “we” own the assets and can readily move them from one fund manager to another.

While new regulations will be required as the personal information asset revolution unfolds, the key driving force that will make personal information asset management possible isn’t a patchwork of new laws.  We can actually use existing contract law in most countries to create and enforce information property rights agreements on behalf of individuals IF institutions will negotiate with us. And the key to compelling institutions from banks, to search engine companies, to governments to negotiate is to tap into the power of the crowd. With the rise of crowdsourcing tools from Kickstarter to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, we are seeing tools that can aggregate the power of millions of individuals. Again, one person can’t afford to hire a personal information asset manager to negotiate contracts to secure and monetize her information assets but 20 million people with similar needs can do it quite effectively.

Information Asset Based Financial Product Innovation – On Wednesday, January 23, 2013, Google’s market capitalization stood at $231 billion. With roughly two thirds of the market using Google for search, that puts a value on our search terms alone at around $350 billion. Before you object that, Google’s value is more than just the sum of our search terms, try this thought experiment – What do you suppose would happen to that market value if the entire world woke up tomorrow morning and decided to never again type a search term into Google?

The point is that the search industry invented a way to aggregate this asset (our search terms) and sell it to advertisers. If our search terms are worth $350 billion, it seems no exaggeration to suggest that “all” of our personal information assets – medical records, financial records, etc. – could represent a multi-trillion dollar asset if effectively and collectively managed. The financial products that aggregate and manage our information assets will deliver a variety of new benefits to individuals:

  • Customized advertising messages that combine the predictive power of our search terms with historical records on purchase patterns and other personal information to precisely tailor ad messages and pricing.
  • Entertainment experiences that interact with our personal information to tailor media content and build up an appreciation of our preferences while providing highly targeted opportunities for advertisers to sponsor programming niches.
  • Levels of privacy and security enforced by authentication and by the fact that most users of personal information do not need to know the identity of the person behind the information profile to achieve their objective (e.g., to make the sale or arrive at a research validation).
  • Personalized medicine on a scale not possible in today’s personal information environment due to support for relating lifestyle purchases to personal health history, genetic information, and analysis of large numbers of people with a similar profile.

Big Data Is Driving Demand for Permissions Contracting Markets – There is a lot of hype around the buzz word “big data” but the bottom line is that the rapidly expanding digital ecosystems of intelligent devices from smart phones and TVs to Wi-Fi medical device implants are generating a wealth of valuable information. But, this new information is only valuable if it can be tapped into and related to find patterns and new insights. In January 2013 a group of researchers from Université Laval and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) reported identifying a molecule known as MPL that they were able to demonstrate could eliminate up to 80% of senile plaques in mice over a 12 week period. MPL has been used in humans for many years as a vaccine adjuvant.

If GSK had access to comprehensive health histories on vaccine recipients it might be possible to reduce the time it takes to validate the effectiveness of a treatment like this by months or even years. Why is time so important? Every week that we shave off of the time that it takes to find an effective Alzheimer’s treatment saves almost 10,000 lives globally and adds many years of higher quality life.

The only effective way to assure rapid and widespread access to these information resources will be to usher in true personal information asset management so that widespread permissions access can be managed while protecting individual privacy and security. (This video interview with John Perry Barlow captures these possibilities for crowd sourcing data exploration – John P. Barlow: Your Personal Data – Who Owns & Controls It?)

Negotiating this rapid access by the way could also result in licensing agreements that pass along contingent royalty rights in resulting therapies to those whose information is used in this process. And, for those who decide to continue to help themselves to our personal information assets, crowd negotiation also means crowd funding of litigation by channeling a small percentage of fee revenues into punishing those who abuse or misuse our information.

The exact trajectory that these forces will take over the next decade is anybody’s guess. But this new deal for personal information asset access will dramatically disrupt every business model built on today’s one-sided personal information access agreements.

 


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