Posted on: Friday 4th of December 2015
Every day, we create vast amounts of data about ourselves. And the quantity is only going to grow and grow. The Internet Of Things will plug us in to a vast and ever-growing network of connected devices from wearable technology to domestic appliances to entire ‘smart cities’.
The potential for innovation is as enormous as it is exciting. And our personal data is the fuel driving it all.
The shiny new hardware – from smartphones to sensors – is merely the kit. It is only part of the vast ecosystem of digital products and services we interact with every day. The amount of value any of these things bring to our lives depends on how much they know about us. And the more they know the better they get.
This is the Internet of Me.
Of course, there are some obstacles on the road to this utopian future. Security blunders and hacking attacks make us fearful for the safety of our data in others’ hands. We are uneasy about the way our information is trawled and traded, then used to track and target us.
So how can we realise the amazing potential of the personal data economy? The answer is surprisingly simple. All it requires is a change in who controls our personal data.
Let’s look at health as an example. Here is a sector ripe for innovation but where data is of the most personal and sensitive nature.
Something such as a running app tracks your performance over time and reports your progress relative to your previous runs. It doesn’t really tell you much about your fitness beyond this, much less your overall health.
But imagine if your running app was one of many that shared data about your lifestyle. Let’s add in your heart rate, sleep pattern, steps walked, food bought, blood pressure, working hours, miles driven. Include your medical records and that data gets seriously deep. The first beneficiary of all this would be you. For the first time you would have a complete picture of your health, fitness and lifestyle.
Through sharing that rich data – or parts of it – between those apps and services (and new ones) you could feed back fresh information that then allows them to further enhance the experience for you.
They could then warn you of potential heath problems, give you lifestyle advice and motivation, and personalise offers for products that could include everything from food to gym memberships to tailored health insurance plans.
Think of any sector and the benefits become obvious – finance, travel, utilities, motoring, retail. Products and services stand to gain so much more relevance and value the more data you put in.
A dysfunctional system
The problem is that right now, businesses have to make do with small nuggets of far inferior data, all different and scattered across countless online services. And the way it is used has led to a war of attrition, with businesses deploying cookies, tracking and targeting algorithms and consumers defending with ad blockers, misinformation or disappearing off the radar altogether.
The resulting marketing methods are crude and annoying, not to mention downright creepy when a business you’ve never dealt with before seems to know too much about you.
Further frustrating efforts to gain deeper insight into consumers’ lives is data protection legislation, the understandable response by governments to public fears over threats to privacy.
Whatever its shortcomings, though, this data is hugely valuable. However, the personal data economy could be so much more. Businesses are only too aware of the massive potential for innovation and growth – and, of course, profit – if they had access to truly rich data. And despite their fears, consumers do want the sort of future it could offer them. It is their sense of powerlessness that is the brake on progress.
A new model
This is where a new model is needed.
The solution is, surely, a shift in ownership and control of personal data back to the consumer. When an individual has all their data together in one place – in a way that would be unimaginable for a third party – the benefits are obvious and immediate. The consumer gets to see the bigger picture with privacy and security. They could then control who is allowed to access and use this complete, rich data, based on what they get in return.
For their part, businesses need to see that this alternative model is better for them too. They would gain access to the kind of data they have only dreamt of. They can then use it to personalise their offer to give consumers exactly what they want. And none of the stuff they don’t. The push from business will be matched by pull from consumer.
Platforms such as digi.me that let people aggregate personal data in their own secure place are already there, offering that hallowed ‘bigger picture’.
When organisations respect this personal data model and use it to offer greater value and better experiences, people will share yet more data, leading to yet further innovation. It is an opportunity to build ever deeper trust based on mutual benefit. It’s what they call a ‘win-win’ situation.
Simon Carroll is a journalist and communications consultant who works with personal data innovator digi.me and edits the Internet of Me forum. Digi.me is one of the sponsors of Ctrl-Shift’s Growth Through Trust conference on December 8.