Personal Data: An Awakening

I was recently asked “What, in your opinion, is one of the most important ideas worth spreading?”

At Singularity University I co-founded The Instance, a company that offers an encrypted data locker and then acts as a data broker, allowing people to sell their own data. The company did not take off, but it gave me the honor of sitting on the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Personal Data Tiger Team, a group of remarkable people working to reshape the personal data ecosystem.

There is an informal, unregulated trade on the web: personal data for services. This is the business model of most Internet giants. A mass awakening has not yet taken place, and the amount of data online is getting larger and more personal. Data is the only commodity that grows exponentially, other commodities are limited resources, and so we have no idea how to regulate this new industry. At the moment, web giants know who your friends are, but soon our DNA will be digital. With 3D printing our stuff will be digital, and with the Internet Of Things our devices will report where we are and what we are doing.

At WEF we are rewriting the rules of data to give more ownership to individuals. The key is in the value from aggregated data. Google makes more money from your data (~$100/year) than Facebook (~$50/year) because they know more about you. If you could safely combine all your data, that aggregated amount would have more value than the sum of its parts (~ $2000/year). You could then choose when to share, say you sell $1000 of info to a pharmaceutical company interested in how their drug affects you. This way the individual retains value and has agency over their data – an imperative as we move deeper into the digital age.

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