Data, data everywhere, but . . .

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The following is written by the CEO of Personal.com (as the American spelling will attest).

It is the Foreword to an important White Paper Privacy by Design and the Emerging Personal Data Ecosystem  from Dr Ann Cavoukian, Information & Privacy Commissioner, Ontario, Canada which I strongly recommend reading.

Yes, Personal.com can be seen as a competitor of PAOGA but, as I have often said, at this point of this emerging and important global market, there are no competitors – only allies who share a worthwhile vision and mission to bring confidence and trust back to online interactions for all participants; including you, as a citizen, consumer, employee, student, patient et al. We also work with Respect Network, OIX, Ctrl-Shift (World Economic Forum), Personal Data Ecosystem Consortium, all of whom are developing standards to facilitate collaboration and interoperability.

Foreword

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous line from “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” – “water, water everywhere … nor any drop to drink” – could easily be updated for the 21st century when it comes to the state of data about people and our lives: “Data, data everywhere, but not a bit (or byte) for me.” Simply put, our data is everywhere, yet there is no place where we can easily find or use it.

How is this possible, when we live in a Big Data world where the data we create or that is captured about us grows at an exponential rate that exceeds Moore’s Law? Just about everything that we do – from mundane form filling to using the latest mobile devices and apps – generates data. Companies certainly understand the importance of our data and capture it for their own use, mining value from it every day. Even so, they struggle to make sense of it all, hoarding it in silos that, ironically, greatly limit its ability to be used.

Now, imagine breaking down these silos, liberating the data, and bringing it together in a secure place where a person could easily access this information and decide how best to use and share it. Then imagine letting the smartest developers build apps on top of such permission-based data, so that people could harness its power to radically improve their lives, on their own terms. The potential use cases are as unlimited as the data the person might store in his or her vault and the personal, private networks they will wish to create when they push their data into the world beyond their vault.

For example, analyzing information about our own purchases, payments and habits could make us smarter financially. Mashing together health records with dietary and exercise tracking could make us healthier. We could use our information to signal purchase intent directly to retailers, earning us better offers and allowing our favorite stores to create more satisfying and welcoming relationships with us. From a productivity perspective, we could use the data in our vault to literally make form filling obsolete and reclaim tens of billions of wasted hours annually across the globe.

There is no need to imagine such services. Technology makes such opportunities possible. Only inertia and certain business practices stand in the way.

A new personal data sector is taking root and creating user-centric, user-driven tools to give individuals more control over their own data. Start-ups focusing on personal data vaults and the safe, private exchange of data form a vibrant core of this industry. As evidenced by the World Economic Forum’s May 2012 Rethinking Personal Data project report, the largest companies in the world as well as governments have become keenly interested in this sector.

Putting users at the center and in control of their own data is not new, but it is an idea whose time has come. This is partly because the current path, as the World Economic Forum report highlights, is inherently unsustainable.

More than ever before, the privacy and security practices of companies and governments are front-page news, and regulators and politicians are scrutinizing them closely. Seeing the well-publicized triumphs and tribulations of the largest search engines and social networks, people are starting to wake up and ask tough questions about privacy, transparency, security, and why they lack the power to use and benefit from their most personal of assets – information about themselves and the people, places, things and activities in their lives. Companies have also

begun to realize that today’s online advertising model is dysfunctional, inefficient

and alienates the customers and dollars they wish to attract and retain.

Personal sits in the center of this emerging personal data ecosystem. We are the first commercially available platform to give individuals the ability to securely import, store, share and reuse all the important data, notes and files in their lives through a vault and personal network connecting them to trusted people, organizations and apps. An end-to-end solution for personal data, Personal is simultaneously the vault and network of nodes that allows people to share and benefit from their data however they choose. Other companies are emerging in this space, focusing on all parts of the personal data spectrum – data vaults, networks, identity management, and other areas. We can barely imagine all of the amazing benefits that will come from this user-centric data world, and we are excited to help make it a reality.

If this new sector is to succeed and gain user trust, the companies in it must adopt Privacy by Design (PbD) principles in their technology and business practices, as described in this paper. And I can think of no better or more esteemed authority to author this study than Dr. Ann Cavoukian and her team. Dr. Cavoukian’s coinage of PbD and long record of leadership on privacy as a scholar, advocate and regulator are renowned and well deserved.

The result of their work is a pioneering examination of the opportunities and challenges of the personal data ecosystem. The paper serves to put sharper edges around this emerging category, and I believe it provides a lasting and important intellectual cornerstone for its development. I think you will agree.

Shane Green
Co-Founder and CEO, Personal

I certainly agree Shane and hope that you can join us at The Prospect of Whitby next time.

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