02 Jun 2017

Privacy by Design

We need to start thinking about our personal data as an asset, every bit as valuable as a critical part in a manufacturing line, a currency to complete a transaction or vital information to enable a decision.

Have you ever given thought to the impact your ‘private’ Facebook profile might have on your life? How about the friends you are connected to on Facebook? What about the things you post about your kids? Have you ever wondered if those photos or posts will have an impact on their lives?

Well Facebook certainly have, filing a patent that would effectively enable them to provide information about your friends to banks so that an average credit rating can be calculated, and used to assess your loan application.

Currently, everything we do online is captured and fundamentally says something about us. Our browsing & search histories, social media profiles, emails and messages, online purchases, health records, dating activity, sports activity etc. (think about all the different apps that you use).

Whether or not the inference drawn is ‘right or wrong’ doesn’t matter all that much to those tracking. However, what does matter is that our attributes are used to our benefit but also to our detriment; in ways that we may not be fully aware of.

Something Has to Give

Yet, whilst we have found a way to socially connect 1.6 billion people, we haven’t seen participation, consumption and business models keep pace or evolve in parallel. As the planet began to connect across networks and to all “things”, the only business model we have come up with is more ways to advertise more stuff.

This model driving advertising revenue could be facing an existential threat, with over 400 million people who have installed Adblockers on their devices. With no signs of this slowing, this is also a call to arms for organisations to modernise their approach to privacy.

The global marketplace of personal data buyers and sellers is highly lucrative. Entire businesses, and in fact, industries have been built from a core capability to acquire various personal attributes and exchange those with other organisations for a fee. We consumers have participated through access to “free” services.

We don’t read the small print or really understand what is happening to our personal information. Worse, research shows that even if we do read the small print, it often doesn’t help to inform or even reassure.

Something is fundamentally wrong: Our world is not just increasingly complex and automated; it seems it is also increasingly unintelligible to citizens. It breeds mistrust and disempowers us in a way fundamentally incompatible with our hard-won notions of freedom and autonomy.

One thing that is increasingly clear, though, is that the uncertainty over what services are doing, and what the consequences of that might be, is a limiting factor in the adoption of new services and sources of value. Not only are the stakes higher than before but also many people feel that the companies themselves are fundamentally less trustworthy.

A New World Order

We haven’t taken the time to understand all the possibilities a networked society could enable. The millions and millions of ways tiny bits of value could be created, recorded, attributed and collected through these new chains of connection and value. We haven’t worked out yet how to make the digital world private and safe, whilst staying open and secure.

We need to start thinking about data as an asset, every bit as valuable as a critical part in a manufacturing line, a currency to complete a transaction or vital information to enable a decision.

If we begin to reframe the use of personal information as an asset to accelerate industry, commerce, education, health and finance it will free up a powerful new- networked economy, where the value of data will be realised as both an asset and an annuity.

However, up until now, what have been missing are the legal rights, business models and technologies to enable this.

The good news is that we are beginning to see this change. The governance and market-regulating factors are beginning to come into play for personal data, affording us the protections and rights of an asset class, like property and currency.

The research indicates that transparency actually leads to people sharing more data rather than less, providing they understand why it is being collected and how it is used.

However, in order for a new order of personal data monetization to flourish we need to solve, at a global scale, the problem of establishing fine-grained permissions to either access, purchase or otherwise interact with services both on and offline.

We need open networks that link horizontally and enable customers to participate across enterprise networks and walled gardens (like Apple and Google), providing the crucial link across networks through the use of their own permissioned data.

The key to enabling these networks will be the ways in which personal data can be accessed and used. The networks that provide transparency and require explicit contextual consent, together with designing for privacy will ultimately create the most value.

Whilst we are still in the very early stages of these networks developing, we can already see organisations demonstrating market differentiation by how they collect, use and share persona data.

Privacy by Design is becoming more and more mainstream whilst trust is becoming a viable business strategy. To put it simply, the market is beginning to move.

Credit: The Rise of the Attribute Economy 2.0


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