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Working towards individual empowerment via personal data

Posted on: Friday 1st of August 2014

Facebook recently announced planned changes to its advertising policy that would allow it to tap users’ internet browsing data in order to target ads. At the same time the social media giant also released more privacy tools, allowing users to mange how ads are targeted to them. However consumer privacy group the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue has sent a letter to US and EU regulators warning them that the new controls are misleading.

So how can consumers keep in control of their personal data online? At Ctrl-Shift we have found that the market for Personal Information Management Services (PIMS), tools and services that help individuals use information to get stuff done and manage their lives better, is growing by at least one new service as week.

Datacoup is one such company that is handing control back to individuals. Datacoup helps users aggregate, package and sell their personal data. It’s then up to the individual whether they want to sell their data, and who to. We spoke to co-founder Matt Hogan about the business.


What’s the big benefit Datacoup is designed to offer?

The big benefit of our service is that for the first time, an individual can be directly compensated for their data. A massive personal data economy exists, only, in its current form, individuals are being looted of the goods they produce. Our platform is taking the first step toward re-allocating value to the producers of the goods.

Is there any other asset class, or sector of the economy where, arguably, the chief stakeholder of an asset has no seat at the negotiating table? And receives nearly zero benefit for their asset’s value?

The first step toward a more efficient data market is putting the chief stakeholders in control of their asset. Control starts with properly attributing value. The rest (privacy, apps, usage, transacting, frameworks) will fall into place.

What inspired/motivated your business?

A couple of things things:

  • A general frustration with the status quo of giving value via personal data and getting so little in return for it. Why does Acxiom make money off my personal details? What do they give me? I have no relationship with them. Clearly, there is something askew.
  • I’m a huge believer in efficient markets. The current market for personal data is highly inefficient. The data product being trafficked in by data brokers, ad-tech and others is wildly inaccurate. The key to a more efficient market for data is to equip individuals with the means to deploy their data as they see fit.
  • Distributed nodes: If you look at watershed moments in consumer history and the economy as a whole, these moments occurred when the individual was empowered with either technology, or information (or both). Examples include the Car, the PC, the internet, the smartphone. The more control ceded to individual, distributed nodes, and decentralised networks, the more efficient markets have become. Monolith control, central command… these are the enemies of efficiency.

What is the business model? How do you/will you earn your keep?

Like any traditional exchange, the model is to take a toll when value (goods, data, services, etc.) are transacted across the platform.

Where would you like to be in 3-5 years time?

In 3-5 years, we’d like to be cited as one of the key contributors to the mass movement of data decentralisation. We’d like to be known as a company that empowers consumers to do with their data as they see fit.

What obstacles will you need to overcome to get there?

There are a few major obstacles we’ll need to overcome:

  • Entrenchment: Processes get ingrained in the individuals mind. Acceptance sets in and complacency ensues. It is hard to affect change when people are used to do things a certain way. It’s known as status quo. It’s always hard to change habits, but we are prepared to fight that battle.
  • Incumbents: Inevitably, our model of empowering the individual will be disruptive to the current crop of data monoliths. They will fight to keep their turf and this is likely to be a long battle of attrition. Nobody wants to give up their profit centre.
  • Scale: The data brokers and other harvesters of data don’t need any permission to do what they are doing. This lends itself to ease of scalability. When you are going through the consumer, with a consent-oriented process, the scaling process is more arduous. It’s imperative that, as a platform, we provide enough value in return for individual data to incentivise mass adoption.

Have there been any recent developments in your business/market?

We are about to announce our public launch, a capital raise and some partnerships. A lot of exciting stuff on the docket!

Have you got any more general thoughts or views about the personal information economy you would like to share?

We recently hosted a meetup with a keynote from Doc Searls, addressing the state of the personal data economy. Given the breadth of companies working in the space, the growing amount of awareness and attention being paid, the investment from VC in the space, and the general pendulum swing away from central command of data, I’m incredibly optimistic about the prospects for companies like us and others that are working toward individual empowerment via data.