UBDI announced a great group of investors today in it’s $825k pre-seed round, which was led by DG Lab Fund II (a JV in Tokyo and San Francisco between Digital Garage and Daiwa Securities Group) an HU Investments (of New York, London and India). PurposeBuilt Ventures of San Francis also participated. You can read the press announcement here and their post on the round here.
As I recently wrote, the level of funding around privacy-preserving data empowerment businesses is paltry compared to the massive problems they help address – data privacy, security, trust, transparency, equitable participation in profits, etc. UBDI might be the first business built on a privacy by design data platform (digi.me) that has a simple, valuable enough value proposition for both consumers (monetize data at more than $1k annually in a few hours time) and businesses (improve quantitative and qualitative research results and make regulators happy) that I’ve seen.
It still takes about 10 minutes to set up, including downloading the separate digi.me app to protect and store the raw data, and the exact price points to get people to participate in studies needs to be worked out, but UBDI has an easy to use app that motivated consumers will have little problem navigating. And researchers of all kinds – market research, financial research, health research, academic research – will be blown away by what they find. Stay tuned for more announcements on the app coming out of beta.
I am excited to announce that I am joining forces with Future State (futurestate.org) as a senior advisor. Future State is a relatively new organization based in Washington, DC that is focused on data empowerment, especially in emerging markets where digital policies are at key inflection points that can more rapidly support this model. It is led by Priya Jaisinghani Vora, Kay McGowan and Jonathan Dolan, who helped develop and lead key digital, data and financial inclusion efforts at USAID.
Here is how they describe their mission:
“Future State puts the rights and aspirations of people at the center of the digital revolution. Through our research, advocacy and direct efforts to spur action by policymakers, civil society and developers around the world, we advance approaches that maximize people’s participation, individual agency, choice and trust in the digital era.”
I couldn’t be more passionate about what they are doing, especially their shining a light on the need for far greater governmental, corporate and philanthropic investment in data empowerment (more on that below).
2019 marks my 10th year working on data empowerment following my departure from Nokia (after they asked me to develop a strategy for exploiting data they were surreptitiously collecting on 1.2 billion customers). What started as a movement to put data directly into the hands of people to use how they choose has turned into the frontline battleground of digital power dynamics.
Data empowerment is broadly associated with efforts around transparency, privacy, data security and equitable exchange of value, including the direct participation in the economics of data. It is different, however, in that it has a fundamental view that none of these can be properly addressed without the individual playing a primary role in aggregating and setting permissions to their data.
Almost all of my efforts over this decade have centered around developing the building blocks required for data empowerment, including:
building a privacy by design platform for an individual to import, secure and share data;
designing data normalization and standardization methods for organizing massively heterogeneous data;
developing private sharing protocols with apps that leverage edge processing on the device; and
creating compelling use cases for individuals, developers, companies and regulators to embrace this new model.
[You can read more about those efforts – Personal, digi.me, UBDI, TFP, Fill It, TeamData, etc – and why I am so excited about the progress we have made in other posts.]
Along the way, I have had to beg (literally), borrow (literally) and steal (figuratively) to cobble together resources to build these solutions. To date, my ventures, including the combined digi.me/Personal, have raised close to $50 million – which is among the highest funded data empowerment efforts so far. But that’s an average of about $5 million annually to change the fundamental architecture and business model of the digital world. It’s a paltry sum compared to the fortune that gets invested hourly (literally) in the surveillance-based model that prevails online.
It’s time for that to change. Future State’s work will highlight success stories around the world, and provide thoughtful, practical and empirically-driven recommendations to policymakers, enlightened CEOs, developers, philanthropists and civil society leaders.
I think what happens without data empowerment is getting clearer by the day. I’m looking forward to working with these visionaries to show what the future state can look like when we all have primary agency over our data.
One of my favorite apps that has come out of our digi.me hackathons is TFP (as in That F’ing Post). We are incubating it now inside the Social Safe Incubator, and have a small team from the University of Michigan working on it with us. You can check it out at: TFPapp.com
Like the name suggests, TFP helps flag social media posts of yours that might be considered vulgar or offensive. It uses a library of over 3,000 words and phrases that get matched privately against your entire history of social posts from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Flickr. You can then edit or delete any posts you find concerning, especially those from your middle school years before you became the enlightened person you are now.
Understanding our digital footprint is essential, especially content that we created ourselves. TFP is an important first step in that effort. I look forward to hearing what you think.
I was invited by the University of Michigan’s School of Engineering and Center for Entrepreneurship to give a “Ted Talk” on my entrepreneurial journey and how I came to be so passionate about empowering people with their data, privacy and identity.
I wrote one of my first blog posts in 2010 about the origins of my thinking when I was a student around concerns of “being defined by others,” so I really enjoyed this special chance to share my story. I’ve never been more convinced that our data-driven future depends on each of us having agency over our data and identity.
Congress confronted privacy and personal data rights in a pair of hearings last week. This week, Mark Zuckerberg announced a “privacy pivot” at Facebook, yet failed to propose a single tangible reform of its core business.
Zuckerberg’s privacy manifesto illustrates the core problem. Big tech companies such as Facebook have no real interest in changing their practices. Their entire business model is based on owning and exploiting personal data to manipulate people and sell advertising. They’ll defend that at all costs.
The ongoing series of privacy scandals and last year’s high profile hearings led the Silicon Valley giants, including Facebook, to hire a small army of lobbyists. Although there has been no new legislation yet, data privacy reform is in the air, and the jockeying behind the scenes is telling.
Facebook’s position and the overall surveillance-based business model has become impossible to defend. With few straightforward options, the lobbyists for the social network and other tech behemoths are now trying to manufacture a partisan crack in what is clearly a bipartisan issue with the hope that they can co-opt the regulatory process as a result.
Even more troubling than watered-down privacy legislation that creates an appearance of accountability and enforcement is the possibility that regulations will create significant new compliance costs. This would allow these data oligopolies to further entrench their dominance against startups and new entrants to the market. Facebook can simply absorb the new costs, while smaller companies and startups, many of whom are starting to emerge with innovative tools to empower people with their data, would be boxed out.
The other focal point of their strategy is to deny state-level activism and innovation. This strategy started last September, when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Internet Association released ten new “privacy principles.” The very first of these principles, which has been echoed nonstop since, was to call for “a single federal privacy law.” While it’s reasonable to demand a unified national approach to privacy, it is far too early to defang state-based privacy laws such as the one in California, which the industry fought before losing handily in a public referendum.
California has, in fact, been a national leader on privacy issues, and their popular law goes a long way toward returning control to consumers. It takes the practices of big companies out of the shadows, which is the first step toward empowerment. It isn’t perfect, but it marked an important and awakened many to the abuses and dangers of the current “click here so we can own your data” model.
Under the newly elected Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, California appears poised to continue to lead on this issue. I don’t think anyone has fully processed the significance of Newsom’s calls for a “digital dividend” in his State of the State address earlier this month. This was one of the first real acknowledgments from a major public figure that trillions of dollars in wealth is being created by companies from users’ personal data, and that those same users have a right to a piece of that pie and to ensure that their data is being used for and not against them.
Of course companies that are making trillions of dollars off of private data are going to resist efforts to let others wrangle their cash cows. But the next time Zuckerberg or another Silicon Valley executive is hauled before Congress to defend data practices, which will likely happen in the coming months, we need to make sure we don’t fall for their shell game.
It’s long past time for power over data to be put back in the hands of the users to whom it belongs. I hope that Congress uses that principle as their starting point and their end goal. We need real action, not empty Facebook posts.
Shane Green is CEO of the private data sharing company digi.me and co-founder of UBDI, a consumer-controlled market research and data monetization community. He blogs at shanegreen.org and you can follow him on Twitter @shanegreen.
Every week brings another sign that consumers are coming around to the idea of making money off of their own data. USA Today’s Marco della Cava went in depth on the issue in a feature story today on California Governor Gavin Newsom’s call for a Digital Dividend, which you can read here.
The article commissioned original research showing that 45% of Californians already support getting “a share of profits from company use of user data.” Fully 26% were undecided and probably needed more specifics before deciding. And it’s fair to assume the 28% against the idea assumed the worst given current industry practices – that their private data would be sold to the highest bidder (which is not the case).
That’s an overwhelmingly positive response out of the gate for the California governor. The article also covers both UBDI and digi.me and the work we are doing to help make this possible. It’s an exciting time to be working on such a game changing problem.
I was recently asked by Fast Company magazine along with a number of other startup execs to identify one app that I used daily that most people didn’t know. My answer was the Quartz news app.
Quartz allows its community of members to identify articles to be featured. Some are articles from Quartz, but the majority are from other media sites. Members are encouraged to comment directly on the substance of the articles and not react to other comments. In fact, you can’t even reply directly to comments.
The depth and substance of the community is everything Twitter should have been – without the bots, Russians and fake news. And you get to post your best thinking along with the likes of Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington and Ryan Hoover. And you’ll learn just how wickedly smart and clever Roger McNamee (@moonalice) is and why he is regularly the most liked commentator.
I’d encourage you to download the app and try it out. Somewhere inside this newcomer to news is the answer to how we get our news and debate in the public commons. There might even be a business model that could make news profitable again.