Why I’m teaming up with Future State

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.” 

FutureState.org

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.

Cleaning up our social media mess

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.

A personal homecoming at the University of Michigan

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.

And, thankfully, the tools and rules to make that happen are finally emerging – like the digi.me Private Sharing platform and the UBDI monetization app (which debuted in beta while I was in Ann Arbor).

Click to watch the full length presentation with Q&A (41 min)

Don’t be fooled by Silicon Valley’s privacy shell game

Here is the text of Shane’s Op-Ed, which appeared in today’s Washington Examiner.

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.

AP – Shane Green on Facebook’s “lip service” to privacy

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.

California Governor calls for a “Digital Dividend”

I spoke to AdWeek about Gov. Newsom’s call for a Digital Dividend. You can read it here.

California Governor Gavin Newsom called for a “Digital Dividend” in his State of the State address this past week. He didn’t offer specifics, saying only that he is instructing his staff to study the idea. But the point was as clear as the Silicon Valley sky – he wants California citizens to participate in the trillions of dollars of wealth being created by companies from their personal data.

I was caught by surprise by the proposal and Newsom’s use of the term Digital Dividend, but not by the idea itself. I’ve been working on this concept for a decade, and have been recently calling it Universal Basic Data Income – the part of UBI derived from one’s own data. I’m currently working on a startup called UBDI that is trying to prove that people can ethically and sustainably earn hundreds and then thousands of dollars a year from their data (built on the digi.me Private Sharing platform).

I love the concept of a Digital Dividend, and the precedents it evokes such as the oil dividend in Alaska. Gov. Newsom’s proposal is a critical development in this movement. No US political leader of his magnitude, much less the leader of the state with the most wealth creation from personal data, has made such a bold declaration.

I spoke to AdWeek about his proposal this week and why this is different from all the other calls for better privacy laws. The idea was so unexpected that the usual industry advocates like the US Chamber of Commerce and the Internet Association haven’t even responded. I’m not sure they know what to make of the idea. Maybe that’s a good thing. I’d hate to have to explain why people should keep being cut out of their fair share of the mega profits derived from the data they produce.

Why I co-founded UBDI

The time is finally right for people to ethically monetize their own data

In 2011, I called data “a new form of currency” in an interview with Julia Angwin and Emily Steel of The Wall Street Journal. I strongly believed that people had a right to participate in the economics of the data they produced, perhaps even the lion’s share. 

I was building the personal data platform Personal at the time (now part of digi.me – a partner of UBDI) and found the response by consumers and the media overwhelmingly positive. If data was indeed the new oil, what if we were each sitting on our own reservoir that just needed to be tapped?

I was not surprised that Silicon Valley insiders scoffed at the idea. In addition to threatening their business model – Facebook was in the process of filing for their IPO based almost entirely on exploiting the personal data they captured – they argued that data was not valuable at an individual level, which was largely true then. Others derided individuals themselves, saying that they could never understand the concept of data – or manage it effectively if they did. 

There was an even louder chorus of detractors who said privacy was dead. One brand-name VC backing Facebook told me quite bluntly “it’s just a matter of time for dinosaurs like you to die off.”

Consumer and privacy groups were often just as cynical. One article in direct response to me even said that selling your own data was “like selling body parts.” I’ve heard similar reactions just this week from a few alarmists in response to initial coverage of UBDI.

I understand the concerns, but they are dead wrong. Nothing is more important to our future than taking control over the economics of the data we produce. After a decade working on the problem, I think we’ve finally cracked the code.

Meet UBDI

UBDI is a startup building a new community of individuals, developers and companies who are committed to working together to ethically monetize data. In the first phase, UBDI has a bulls-eye on the $50 billion market research industry, where aggregated insights and trends are most important – not data about individual people. Other industries will follow, making the addressable market many times larger – not counting the market cap of the companies based on that data.

Similar to the ideas around Universal Basic Income, we believe that individuals will be able to receive hundreds and potentially thousands of dollars annually from ethically monetizing the data they produce – what we call Universal Basic Data Income. 

The company is creating an asset- and revenue-backed digital currency, called UBDI, that has the potential not just to let individuals participate in their share of the community profits each year, but also the future value of the community’s data – kind of like an equity. 

In short, UBDI members are coming after both the revenue and the capitalized value of their data.

Here’s our announcement this week, as well as a great initial piece by the Daily Mail. And here’s a short video of how it will work when UBDI’s consumer app launches in the spring (please join the waitlist now to earn 1,000 bonus tokens and to show the market research community your willingness to participate)

I would add that I’m blown away by my co-founders, Dana Budzyn, who is CEO, and Mark Kilaghbian, Chief Product Officer. They have rich personal histories that led them to decide to start UBDI. 

Dana spoke about how a health condition led her on this journey in a powerful TEDx video that I’ve included below. Mark hosts the most popular crypto podcast on iTunes, called Cryptoconomy, which resulted in part from being being a successful early crypto trader in his teens and in college and then being a victim of the Mt. Gox hack. They are joined by CTO Harun Smkrovic, a rock star developer who helped build Personal and, more recently, a popular crypto wallet.

We are also lucky to be partnered with digi.me, where I still run North American operations and help oversee the development of our app and startup ecosystem. Many thanks to digi.me founder Julian Ranger, CEO Rory Donnelly and the entire digi.me team. Tarik Kurspahic, EVP of Technology at digi.me, also serves on the advisory board of UBDI. UBDI simply wouldn’t be possible without digi.me’s private sharing technology.

It’s worth noting that we will soon be launching a major initiative for developers who want to build apps on UBDI – or integrate their existing apps. Apps can be both free for users and profitable without having to exploit data for advertising. More to come on that shortly.

Finally, we are grateful to our other advisers, including Georgetown Law professor Itai Grinberg, who is figuring out how taxes will work in UBDI, David Nayer, COO of crypto ride sharing company Arcade City, and the many hundreds of people who have advised us as we set out to build this community recently and over the past decade.

All it takes is 1 million people to sign up to prove that we can change the business model of the internet! Please sign up for our waitlist now at ubdi.co.

Marc Benioff, Tim Cook and Roger McNamee change the data and privacy game. Plus, a challenge to Acxiom – give users their data!

This week’s Time magazine cover feature on privacy, data and Facebook marks another milestone on the path to a new, fairer more transparent model. Marc Benioff, founder of Salesforce and new owner of Time, wasted no time in shining a light on this critical subject.

The column by Tim Cook is the biggest line drawn in the sand yet by Cook and Apple, who are declaring war on the surveillance economy that online advertising requires. It also strikes at the heart of two of their biggest competitors – Facebook and Google.

In addition to supporting a call for new privacy laws, Cook writes:

“But laws alone aren’t enough to ensure that individuals can make use of their privacy rights. We also need to give people tools that they can use to take action.”

Roger McNamee, an early investor in Facebook and mentor to Mark Zuckerberg, writes an even more damning piece about his difficult decision to call out Facebook executives and ask for them to be held accountable. The article (and his book Zucked) reads like a Silicon Valley version of Frankenstein.

“When I sent that email to Zuck and Sheryl, I assumed that Facebook was a victim. What I learned in the months that followed–about the 2016 election, about the spread of Brexit lies, about data on users being sold to other groups–shocked and disappointed me. It took me a very long time to accept that success had blinded Zuck and Sheryl to the consequences of their actions.”

In a bizarre and frankly concerning response to the Time articles, Acxiom announced yesterday that they were ready to embrace GDPR-like rules in the United States. They all but invented the data broker industry Time magazine focuses on, and were featured as a “privacy deathstar” by the the Financial Times.

If Acxiom getting religion on privacy sounds unlikely to you, you aren’t alone. In fact, I’m deeply concerned about companies like them trying to co-opt potential privacy legislation in the United States to both protect themselves and to block innovative privacy models like ours at digi.me, as I discussed with AdWeek just yesterday.

I have personally asked Acxiom many times, including directly to their board of directors, to make a downloadable copy of their digital profile data available to consumers. GDPR in Europe now requires it, and it’s called data portability. The answer has always been no.

If Acxiom wants to prove they are on the digital road to Damascus, they should make their data available to consumers. Every consumer could download a complete, reusable copy of the data Acxiom has about them – thousands of detailed data points.

At digi.me, we have the proven tools to let consumers download exactly this kind of data securely and privately – and to use however they choose (we don’t touch, hold or see data). We’ll do all the work, and won’t even charge for it.

Acxiom, it’s never been easier to prove that you’ve changed.