Personal and the World Economic Forum’s New Report

This post was originally published under the same title on the Personal blog, A Personal Stand.WEF-logo

When I learned of the World Economic Forum’s first report on personal data in early 2011, I was surprised to see an organization comprised of Fortune 1000 companies highlight the many cutting-edge problems we were addressing at Personal. Their report went so far as to call personal data a “new economic asset class,” and made a bold assertion that individuals needed to be empowered with their data to create balance, fairness and stability in the new digital economy.

We were delighted to then be asked to participate in the Forum’s Rethinking Personal Data Working Group, which today released a new report, produced in collaboration with The Boston Consulting Group, entitled: “Rethinking Personal Data: Strengthening Trust.” You can see the Forum’s press release here, and our own here.

The report broadly defines personal data, including data that is directly or indirectly known about you and your family, friends, work, values and beliefs, location/GPS, car, home, finances, spending, browsing history, app usage, health, education – you name it. It further examines the growing instability that comes from a lack of trust and transparency in how personal data is captured and used by companies and governments, while highlighting benefits for all stakeholders, including people, if a better framework emerges that balances the competing needs and interests of all parties.

While startups are famous for “making sausage” – the idea that the reality is messy behind the scenes even when the outcome is good – I think it is fair to say we made some (very good) sausage over the last year. There were a wide range of passionate and thoughtful views on most every subject that touches personal data – ownership rights, consent, the primacy of the individual, the right to be forgotten, transparency, privacy, data security, national security, sovereignty, public safety, regulation, public health, political freedom, and, last but far from least, innovation and economic growth.

Many of the report’s recommendations focus on much needed improvements to the current model, where companies and governments are central. Others point to ways to explore new models that could give individuals a better seat at the table and that can create, through enhanced trust, even better outcomes for companies and governments willing to abide by new rules.

We were delighted to both participate in this important endeavor and to see Personal, along with companies like Dropbox, Reputation.com, Mydex and Qiy, be highlighted as an innovator working to empower people with their data. We are confident that the benefits will be magical for all involved as people are able to effectively manage and use this “new economic asset” across their lives.

A Digital Bill of Rights By the People, For the People

This post was originally published under the same title on the Personal blog, A Personal Stand.

The Obama Administration unveiled today its long-awaited framework for online privacy, Consumer Data Privacy in a Networked World. The result is a bold and thoughtful step in the right direction, and it will make an impact, regardless of whether Congress acts. It’s another sign that power on the Internet is shifting toward individuals and away from companies.

There’s still much more to do:

1.  In talking about reform and creating a new model, we must put individuals firmly at the center of the framework. This means giving them the tools to drive demand for their valuable data resources to transform the current model into a “user-centric” one. With individuals truly in control – and looking out on the world from their perspective – every other principle and right about privacy falls into place.

2.  While the framework will require companies to re-evaluate their data practices and conform to new standards, what about our government’s obligations in handling our data? The Obama Administration has been impressively forward-looking in this arena – particularly with veterans, education and health record data – but it seems that individuals care as much about what the government knows about them as they do about companies.  We need rules for government, too.

3.  Actual citizens need a seat at the table alongside the privacy advocates, law enforcement representatives, companies and academics that will help establish codes of conduct.  If the framework is being constructed for the benefit of individuals, don’t we deserve a say in the matter, too? Perhaps the final say?

To make the last point a reality, we’re taking matters into our own hands.  In a few weeks at SXSW in Austin, Texas, I will join my friend, Anne Bezancon, founder and CEO of Placecast to create – with other SXSW attendees – a Bill of Rights “by the people, for the people” that we would expect both companies and the government to respect. If you will be attending the conference, please join us for our interactive Sunday afternoon session, We the People: Creating a Consumer’s Bill of Rights. Please also check out the session by our CTO, Tarik Kurspahic, on building a “privacy by design” company.

A World Without Borders – Customer Data in Bankruptcy

Here is the link to my post in the Personal company blog on how customer data should be treated in bankruptcy: http://blog.personal.com/2011/09/a-world-without-borders-–-customer-data-in-bankruptcy

We don’t have this issue at Personal as individuals own their data from the start when using our data vault service (thus there would be no “customer data assets” for us to sell were the company to go out of business), but I expect it to become a bigger and bigger issue in the coming years.

The Data Wars Begin

In a week where President Obama and the White House announced their intention to enter the fray over consumer data and privacy, the most interesting recent news has actually been the rapid escalation between Google and Facebook over data ownership. Framing it in terms of a trade war, TechCrunch declared the beginning of true data protectionism, and has been highlighting the almost daily back and forth between the two biggest aggregators of consumer/Owner data in the world.

This fight over the right to export email and contact data from one service to the other is shining a bright light on the much larger and more important issue — how critically dependent they both are on owning and controlling your and my data. No matter their rhetoric, their actions cannot hide the fact that the they look at our data as theirs. Pretty hard to start a trade war if you don’t have some kind of good or service to withhold. In both cases, the only thing they have to hold hostage is our data. That’s it.

Most trade wars are bad for everyone involved. This one, however, might end up helping Owners. Unlike privacy, which has proven harder to understand and to motivate people, data ownership is far more tangible. Either you can do what you want with your data or you can’t. There is not much room for either of them to sit on the fence. If Google and Facebook continue to retaliate, which I’m betting they do, they will do more to show their true colors around data ownership than anything the White House or Wall Street Journal could do combined. Should be fun to watch.

S.

A New Model Requires New Principles

The first week my team and I started Personal, it was clear to us that we had to have a statement of principles that we would live by internally and be held accountable to by the rest of the world. I don’t mean the mandatory “company values” statement. I mean a fundamentally new set of principles that would govern our every decision; principles based on the conviction that each individual must have the ultimate control, flexibility and benefit of his or her data.

After a thorough review of many good (and not so good) ideas, we agreed on the following:

– Right to data ownership, privacy and economic benefits by individuals
– Transparency in all collection and use of personal data
– Data portability and deletion rights
– Right to simple opt-in and opt-out mechanism
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In the coming weeks, I will explore each of these more deeply and offer early insights into how Personal has built such principles into our products, business model and company culture.

But I want to first share the fact that data portability and deletion rights was especially perplexing when we first debated it. How could we spend all this time investing our time and resources to build such a great platform and innovative business model and just allow people to decide to take their data elsewhere and delete all traces of it on our system?

The answer was simple – we couldn’t find a single compelling argument not to do it. We are building Personal for ourselves and our families and friends as much as anyone, and we all agreed that we would want to be able to pick up and leave if we lost faith in the company for any reason without penalty or friction. Yes, that means, in some ways, we will only be as good as our last pitch, but that is how we believe it should be when it comes to data. Anyone for having your money trapped in a bank you have lost confidence in? Or if you find another bank with far better rates and services? We welcome having to meet such a high standard.

S.