STOPPING THE GREAT DATA ROBBERY

By Stuart Lacey, CEO and founder of Trunomi

Today, we can’t help but leave a ‘vapour trail’ of ones and zeros everywhere we go. Through smart devices and online apps, we leak personal data almost every minute of every day: a trail of breadcrumbs which, for canny businesses, leads straight to profit.

Virtually the entire digital industry is built on our data. Tech companies are very adept at sucking up every last bit of information we generate, anonymising it and then selling it for huge profit (Google, for example, earns about 90 percent of its entire income from advertising). The brands that buy this anonymised data then use big data analytics and AI algorithms to once again tie personal data to known individuals – it’s how they target advertising to our unique desires.

However, as individual consumers we receive no value from this market. Aside from slightly more relevant, personalised advertisements on the web, we’re excluded from avalue chain that’s built on our personal data.

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We are, in effect, being robbed.

The world seems to have forgotten that the data these companies are profiting from does not actually belong to them. It’s our data and we should be paid for its use.

Regulators are waking up to this state of affairs. New legislation, such as the General Data Protection Regulation in Europe are enshrining the rights of data owners (consumers) and stipulating new limits around how brands can process and transact our data. Such laws recognise that we have the right to choose where our personal data goes and formalises the ‘right to be forgotten’.

However, to date tech companies have been circumventing legislation through clever wording in T&Cs. Most of us don’t read the T&Cs we’re regularly asked to sign, and it probably makes little difference anyway. There have been instances of lawyers spending days pouring over such T&Cs and coming away with little idea about what they mean for our personal data rights.

The good news is that the current stalemate might be coming to an end, thanks to disintermediation. Many recent digital success stories, such as Uber and Airbnb, have been a success because of disintermediation: they connect people who want something directly with people who have it, without a middle man (i.e. in the case of Airbnb, connecting people who need a room with people who have a spare room).

Disintermediation can work for our data too. If we establish a platform to connect brands and service providers directly to customers, customers can create their own value relationships with these brands and at the same time monetise their data. The brand benefits through access to data they know is directly attached to a specific person (so they don’t need to spend time and money analysing anonymised data). This allows them to pass on the savings to the customer while building stronger loyalty.

A bank, for example, would use a disintermediation platform –a personal data vault controlled by the customer – to tailor their services to the customer based on their customers’ preferences. A customer might consent to allow their bank to access their entire social media and browsing history in return for discounts on products. If the customer is searching for new houses in a certain area the bank will realise they might be in the market for a mortgage, and can then offer them a discounted product.

The point is that both parties are consenting to a fair exchange of data. The bank reduces its average cost of acquisition per customer because of higher conversion rates, and because they are able to be more successful with a reduced marketing spend.In turn, the bank can now offer such a customer more competitively priced products and services (effectively discounting the cost by some of the savings generated), not to mention the customer’s time saving as a result of being offered the right product first time.

If we are to regain control of our data and receive fair financial remuneration for its use, then disintermediation is our best chance of success. The alternative is to see brands continue to profit from our data vapour trails at the cost of our privacy.

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