Why should you own your personal data? Is a difficult question to answer today, in the same way as asking the question thirty years ago, “Why should you own a personal computer?” You can only imagine the reaction if you tried to convince someone in 1980 that their children would be carrying around $33 million dollar supercomputers in their pockets 3 decades later.
“Accuracy of personal data provided to advertisers currently hovers at 50%. It’s likely that advertising will largely remain a guessing game until individuals take ownership of their data and begin participating in the conversation about what they want. ”
The most fitting answer may be to acknowledge that we can’t predict the exact ways the future will unfold. However if you were to go to a college campus today and ask a student to explain why you should own a personal computer, they may ask, “How could you live without one?”
Personal data has yet to reach it’s potential because the current data ecosystem operates behind closed doors. Individuals are shut out of seeing what information companies have about them which leads to fear about how they are using the data. The market has started to realize the value hidden in data, which has led to widespread participation between companies to exchange or sell data to boost profits.
Certain patterns, when applied to data, stand out as having led to major leaps in human knowledge. From discovering how to navigate the seas, to predicting flu outbreaks, patterns discovered in data have made our lives better. Following these observations we can predict a few of the benefits that will result from shifting the control and ownership of personal data from corporations to individuals.
When transparency becomes widespread in the data ecosystem people will manage a profile for companies the same way that people manage their Facebook.
Accuracy of personal data provided to advertisers currently hovers at 50%. It’s likely that advertising will largely remain a guessing game until individuals take ownership of their data and begin participating in the conversation about what they want. There are many things that you wouldn’t necessarily want to broadcast to your friends, yet these mundane details are extremely useful to businesses that are trying to cater their services to you.
For example, if you could broadcast that you are on a Paleo diet, grocery stores would know to stop sending you coupons for Snickers. If you chose, you could allow all candy manufacturers to see this information and avoid their tempting commercials entirely. Who knows? A sample from a new brand of Paleo friendly snacks could appear unannounced on your doorstep, depending on the permissions that you set.
As the quality of data increases, the level of personalized service that was once reserved for VIP’s in the hospitality industry will become an expected service by all. Companies will have the data they need to justify investing in an individual to built a lasting relationship. Trust and understanding mutually build over time, which will allow brands to cater to each person’s preferences on an individual basis. People may begin to feel as if they have a friendship with the top brands in the same way that local store owners had friendly relationships with their customers just a couple generations ago.
Evolving privacy laws have made it increasingly difficult for companies to obtain quasi-anonymized data to use for their marketing and advertising campaigns. At this point, companies are left with no choice other than to combine hundreds of anonymized sources of data and hope for a result that accurately portrays their “target customer”.
When individuals have access to their own data, mistakes will be reduced and valuable data that previously couldn’t be utilized will be shared. Thus creating an increase in efficiency for the economy as a whole. This is why individuals must make the decision to own their data as a well maintained asset.
The internet of things has led to our planet producing exponential amounts of data. Today we have over 9 billion devices connected to the internet, with predictions forecasting that number to be in the tens of billions by 2015. It’s hard to comprehend that a full 90% of all the data in the world has been generated over the last two years. Adding up from the dawn of mankind 10,000 years ago all the way to 2010 equals a fraction of the data we produced in 2011-2012. We have never lived in a time where every interaction is recorded.
The data from our mobile devices, automobiles, and how we spend our time online already feeds a data ecosystem worth billions. The trend of increased amounts of data stored in each companies will continue to grow at extraordinary rates. Unless things change, we will continue to leave most of the valuable data that we create within each company locked up forever.
The individual needs a way to unite their digital identity in one place. Combining data from multiple sources to look at trends across seemingly unrelated areas has historically lead to insights that were previously unimaginable. For instance in 1844 Matt Maury combined data sets from sailing captains log books to try and predict the conditions of the seas. Each log book had thousands of daily entries the captains made while at sea recording the conditions they were in. Maury did discover many patterns in the sea which led to sailing routes 3 times as fast. Unexpectedly he also noticed patterns in whale sightings that were recorded in the log books. These patterns led to the discovery of whale migration.
After seeing promise in his initial efforts, Maury went on to declare that every ship should be regarded as a floating observatory. He actively encouraged ship captains to drop letters in bottles so other navigators could find them and calculate current direction. Actively collecting data like this led to even more breakthroughs eventually earning Maury the title “Benefactor of Mankind”.
The same willingness to actively record data has been seen recently in the exploding quantified self-movement. People are buying millions of devices to monitor and record data about their own bodies and improve their habits over time. This influx of health data is set, if it hasn’t already, to outpace the amount of data being collected by professional scientific and research organizations.
It would be a tragedy if we didn’t have the ability to connect this data and make it available to researchers. Restrictions on data sharing that have been implemented by regulatory agencies, especially in the medical and financial space, prohibit companies from accomplishing this vision.
The key to uniting these sets of data lies in the hand of the individual and a willingness to contribute. In the same spirit that Maury set forth with, we too can begin to unite all of our data and see what insights it holds.
Trust is the foundation that all human interaction and cooperation is based on. The feelings of fear when a company secretly sells personal data could be likened to the reaction a person may have when a friend reveals a secret and betrays their trust. A standard needs to be created to easily control preferences for how data is used, along with trust in the companies to respect those preferences. If this is achieved, the amount of data people will be willing to share with companies will be exponentially higher than it is today and allow for better understanding on both sides.
The reason that many people don’t want companies to have their data is because they are afraid. They are afraid the company is going to spam them with useless offers. To call them at dinner attempting to sell them something they don’t want. And ultimately they are afraid that the company is going to give the secret of their contact details to lots of other companies. Unfortunately this is exactly the way a majority of companies have operated for a long time. It would be hard to blame them, before this point in time the technology didn’t exist to provide a personalized experience catering to millions of people.
There is something very historically different when you have 1 set of data and 1 person. We are moving in a direction where our conversations with businesses will feel like talking to an old friend. Only they won’t be speaking words, they will simply be exchanging data.
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