It’s said that data powers today’s most profitable corporations, just like fossil fuels energized those of the past. To paraphrase: your data is being used by businesses over and over to help them make important decisions. This ostensibly makes your data much more valuable than oil ever was, but how can you take control?
To me it’s obvious that in order to take control of one’s data, there must first be an ability to accurately account for ownership, and similarly account or keep a record of all transactions, exchanges and permissions. All while in a secure and tamper-proof manner. I firmly believe the best approach to achieve this lies in blockchain.
How can a technology like blockchain that’s surrounded by mystery and hype make any impact on your daily life? For one thing, it has the potential to get your data out of a corporation’s centralized database, and “on the edge,” stored on your own device.
The precious commodity of personal data users give away for free lies in every photo uploaded, every interaction, every online shopping basket filled. All these activities and transactions are comprised of data that is training machines to be smarter – and subsequently telling businesses how to make better decisions.
Just what is this data anyway?
You may realize that your data is being used and knowingly provide information in the form of location data (think Google maps), shopping behaviors (Amazon Prime – one click makes it so easy!), public reviews and commentary (Yelp!) and social media posts.
There is a wide variety of data being collected from our digital lives, both with and without our direct approval. How we click on pages, how we “fumble” with our cell phones, the way we navigate a brick and mortar store: everything feeds into the giant data machine.
And companies are using all this data for absolutely free. The fact is that consumer data from both public sources and private is incredibly valuable to corporations, marketers, investors, and individuals. In fact, American companies alone are estimated to have spent over $19 billion in 2018 acquiring and analyzing consumer data, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau.
When will we all wake up and realize that our data is worth something? Oil definitely was in its day (and still is) a valuable commodity. Those who “struck it rich” Beverly Hillbillies style in the oil days could one day find that the wells ran dry. With personal data, as long as people have any online activity, there is a resource that won’t run out and will remain valuable. The days of companies obtaining all this personal data for free may be numbered.
Transparency and consumer rights
We are demanding transparency in every aspect of our lives. Where are products sourced? What are the ethics of the company or brand? We want an insider’s look at brands, so we can have a personalized, engaging shopping experience in certain categories. This new reality promises to spill over into a demand for transparency into how data is being used.
Right now, data is mainly being collected via screens: computers, tablets, and smartphones. But sources of data collection are becoming more widespread by the day like Wired points out: smart speakers, censor-embedded clothing, wearable health monitors, facial recognition-enabled surveillance cameras, in addition to Amazon Echos listening in on millions of homes.
While artificial intelligence may not take over the world HBO’s Westworld style, it is using this data to “train” machines to become smarter. This means that data accuracy and completeness will be even more critical, since it is the basis for the machines to learn.
As this kind of active and passive data collection continues to amp up, regulations and new approaches to consumer data will become even more important. We are already becoming more savvy to our data usage, with sweeping regulations like GDPR upping the game, and will begin to ask for insights into how data is being used. What about the oil analogy? Our data is worth something — and we need to get paid.
Blockchain is the next step
I firmly believe blockchain will be critical in helping develop transparency and accountability in data sharing as we take ownership of our data. Blockchain provides a number of substantive benefits. It provides a layer of transparency and accountability for data ownership and transactions.
A public ledger of data rights and transactions can, for example, ensure that the appropriate individual is receiving credit for his or her data, and data users can be satisfied that the data they are consuming is true to the source and not simply brokered.
It can also minimize the influence of data middlemen in any consumer data transaction while putting the data back in the hands of the consumer. This means we regain control of who uses our data, when our data is used and our compensation for it. As applications and data services begin to adopt these practices, incentives for consumers and data users are better aligned, which in turn fosters data sharing and utilization.
This will take place in the form of public data protocols on the blockchain defining how these transactions are carried out in a secure manner, how privacy is protected, and transactions under specific and agreeable conditions.
It’s clear that data is going to become more and more valuable, as companies in all industries rely on it to make important business decisions. Sweeping societal shifts, driven by technology and access to information, means that consumers will soon start to demand more when it comes to personal data usage.
As we all begin to realize the value of our information, understand that it is being collected (with and without explicit consent) and seek to gain control over its use, solutions must come to the forefront. Blockchain provides a foundation to start implementing change, and stay ahead of the data-driven curve.
Published May 4, 2019 — 15:00 UTC