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WEF report: Personal data as a new asset class

Posted on: Wednesday 6th of April 2011

I’ve just been reading the World Economic Forum’s report Personal Data: The Emergence of New Asset Class.


Here are some of the key points in the report.  First, it highlights the vast amounts of personal data that are now being generated and that this data (‘digital data created by and about people’) “is generating a new wave of opportunity for economic and societal value creation.”


It continues: “Increasing the control that individuals have over the manner in which their personal data is collected, managed and shared will spur a host of new services and applications. As some put it, personal data will be the new “oil” – a valuable resource of the 21st century.”


[Actually, I think it was me who first said this in a report I did for dunnhumby/Tesco many years ago. But that’s my ego talking.]


The report stresses the need for a win-win-win way forward:


“This vision includes a future where:

• Individuals can have greater control over their personal data, digital identity

and online privacy, and they would be better compensated for providing others with access to their personal data;

• Disparate silos of personal data held in corporations and government agencies will more easily be exchanged to increase utility and trust among people, private firms and the public sector;

• Government’s need to maintain stability, security and individual rights will be met in a more flexible, holistic and adaptive manner.”


“A key element for aligning stakeholder interests and realising the vision of the personal data ecosystem is the concept of end user centricity.


“This is a holistic approach that recognises that end users are vital and independent stakeholders in the co-creation and value exchange of services and experiences. A construct designed for the information economy, it breaks from the industrial-age model of the “consumer” – where relationships are captured, developed and owned.

Instead, end user-centricity represents a transformational opportunity. It seeks to integrate diverse types of personal data in a way that was never possible before. This can only be done by putting the end user at the centre of four key principles:

• Transparency: Individuals expect to know what data is being captured about them, the manner in which such data is captured or inferred, the uses it will be put to and the parties that have access to it;

• Trust: Individuals’ confidence that the attributes of availability, reliability, integrity and security are embraced in the applications, systems and providers that have access to their personal data;

• Control: The ability of individuals to effectively manage the extent to which their personal data is shared;

• Value: Individuals’ understanding of the value created by the use of their data and the way in which they are compensated for it.




Here’s my take on the report as whole.


  • It’s useful in the way it highlights the need for individuals to have more control over their personal data, and for win-win-win approaches to the uses of this data. This translates into many complex questions relating to data sharing standards, trust frameworks, interoperability, etc.
  • It pretty much side-steps the question of who is going to actually manage this data. So, for example, while it mentions the concept of personal data stores in passing, the implications of personal data stores are not properly explored.
  • It misses the economic potential of VPI (Volunteered Personal Information) and resulting improvements in information logistics – getting the right information to and from the right person at the right time. This is the key to reducing waste and guesswork and creating innovative new services.
  • While it nods to the huge potential for ‘economic and societal value creation’ it does little to explore the future potential role of Personal Information Management Services (PIMS) which, in my view, could become the most important industry in the world.


Compared to the status quo thinking of just a few years ago, the WEF has made some big steps forward. But their report is very much a holding, interim vision. It comes to the brink of a new world where consumer empowerment is a business in its own right. But it stops there. We’ve got a long way to go yet.

Alan Mitchell