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.
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 mechanisms
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.