Data Vaults Go Mainstream at World Economic Forum

This post was originally published under the same title on the Personal blog, A Personal Stand and can also be found on the World Economic Forum Rethinking Personal Data website 
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In the last six months, a fast growing and somewhat unexpected chorus has emerged around the need to give people greater control over their personal information.

Mainstream think tanks are now focused on it – see the recent Aspen Institute report, which focuses extensively on “the new economy of personal information” and the central role of individuals in it.

Governments are also catalyzing this new model. The Midata initiative in the U.K. and the Open Data initiative in the United States are giving back government-collected data to citizens in organized, reusable form.

But what’s most interesting is the growing realization among companies that their futures are tied to building new relationships with consumers who are increasingly empowered with and savvy about their digital data, and who have growing concerns about how their data is captured and used.

That’s why a new report released today by the World Economic Forum, whose membership is made up of Fortune 1000 companies, is so important. “Unlocking the Value of Personal Data: From Collection to Usage” is a product of the Forum’s multi-year Rethinking Personal Data Project, and was led by Forum official Bill Hoffman (see his blog today on the report) and a steering committee of the Boston Consulting Group, Kaiser Permanente, Visa, Microsoft, AT&T and VimpelCom. Personal also participated, and is a member of the Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Data-Driven Development.

When you consider the organizations behind the report, its major conclusions are all the more dramatic:

    • Companies and governments need to put people at the center of their data, empowering individuals to engage in how their data flows through technology. This means giving consumers greater access to and control over their information as well as the tools to benefit directly from it.
    • We need to move past old notions of privacy that revolved around simple notice and consent. Instead, companies should adopt Privacy by Design principles that address every stage of product, technology and business development. This would ensure, for example, that apps feature user-driven permissioning of data and have greater transparency and control over how it’s used and valued.
    • The report blows a hole through the canard that e-commerce and privacy cannot peacefully coexist. It’s not a zero-sum game. Instead, it’s a win-win for businesses and consumers where even more data can flow between trusted parties.
    • Perhaps most exciting, the report detailed a number of use cases in which companies are helping consumers to leverage their personal information to improve their lives, ranging from health care (Kaiser Permanente) to financial data (Visa) to automotive price transparency (Truecar) to online reputational information (Reputation.com).
    • Personal was also profiled to demonstrate how personal data vaults can make the time-wasting tradition of form filling obsolete, saving literally billions of hours annually, and greatly improving the delivery of public and private sector services. Check out www.personal.com/fillit to see how your company or organization can participate.

We’re excited to see the model we have been building over the past three years start to catch fire, and we expect to see a lot more progress in the next six months.

Launching ‘Fill It’

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

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Today, I’m excited to announce the launch of “Fill It”, a new app built on the Personal Platform that makes it easier for you to save and reuse your personal information and passwords online.

Fill It for Easy, Secure Password Management

With Personal’s mobile and web data vault, you can already securely store, retrieve and safely share your logins and passwords. With Fill It, you no longer have to copy and paste passwords to log in to websites. Fill It does it for you in seconds.

Initially launched as a bookmarklet, Fill It automatically delivers usernames and passwords from your vault to log you in to websites in seconds. You can also create and save new passwords on the fly. Fill It enables you to get control of all of your passwords so you can stop using the same or easy passwords across sites, saving you time, while significantly increasing your security. (Mobile logins continue to use one touch copying to clipboard to paste into native and mobile web apps.)

Fill It for Fast Registration and Checkouts

Fill It also allows you to easily fill out registrations and checkouts by enabling you to securely reuse personal and work information, credit card and reward numbers, and other information from across your life. Fill It can help you reclaim dozens of hours of time each year, conveniently shop online and enjoy greater peace of mind by not having your sensitive information on so many sites.

Fill It for Longer Forms

Unlike other form filling solutions, Fill It can leverage thousands of different fields of data (and they’re growing by the day) from Personal’s web and mobile data vault, enabling much more in-depth form filling for a wider variety of forms, such as applications – and with a higher degree of protection.

It’s our mission to make the manual, repetitive, and time-consuming process of filling out forms a thing of the past. With your help – and that of companies, sites and organizations – we can. Just let them know about Fill It and that they should improve the forms on their sites according to best practices.

Getting Started

It’s easy to get started. Simply add Fill It to your bookmark bar. Then go to an online login or form and click “Fill It.”

When filling out a form for the first time, Fill It saves that information in your Personal data vault if it’s not already stored there. Whenever you need that information again, just click “Fill It” to automatically complete the form in seconds.

What does life with Fill It look like? Meet Sarah. Sarah’s a busy mom who uses Fill It to make her life easier – whether it’s logging in to websites, shopping online, storing her kids’ information or keeping track of shipping addresses around the holidays. Watch our video to learn more about Sarah and Fill It.

Calling All Developers, Companies and Organizations

We invite developers, companies and organizations of all types (government, schools, non-profits) to embrace and promote auto-completion of logins and forms with Fill It.

For every form you optimize for auto-form filling, you can save thousands of hours of time and hassle for your customers or constituents, and significantly increase your conversion rates and the quality of the service you deliver.

It starts with following best practices in how you design and implement forms and data fields. Check out the guide we created for you for more details.

Data as a Human Right

This post was originally published on the World Economic Forum Blog.

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Data has the power to transform our lives – collectively and individually. What is needed to unlock the profound opportunity data affords to improve the human condition – and to defend against a multitude of threats – is not technical, but an ethical framework for its use by and beyond those who initially collect it, including providing access to individuals.

At its most fundamental level, data about individuals represents a new kind of “digital self” that cannot be easily distinguished from the physical person. Some consider it a form of property; others a form of expression or speech. Those working in the area of genomics often view personal data as the DNA sequences that make us truly unique. Whatever lens one uses, it has become increasingly clear that the consequences of how personal data is used are every bit as real for people and society as any material, physical or economic force.

Properly harnessed by ethical practitioners, the principled use of “big data” sets can improve our economies, create jobs, reduce crime, increase public health, identify corruption and waste, predict and mitigate humanitarian crises, and lessen our impact on the environment. Similarly, empowering individuals with access to reusable copies of data collected by others, also called “small data”, can help them drastically improve the quality of their lives, from making better financial, education and health decisions, to saving time and reducing friction in discovering and accessing private and public sector services. Evidence of the positive impact of leveraging data, by both institutions and individuals, abounds.

However, data, like the technology that generates it, is in and of itself neutral. It can be used for good or ill. With a proper, ethical framework, data can – and should – be leveraged for the benefit of humankind, simultaneously at the societal, organizational and individual level. Misused, its power to harm and exploit is similarly unlimited.

In fact, what raises the ethical use and respect for data potentially into the realm of a fundamental human right is its ability to describe and reveal unique human identity, attributes and behaviors – and its power to affect a person’s, and a society’s, well-being as a result. Just as in the physical world, basic rights and opportunities must be preserved.

Indeed, it is already well recognized that invasions of our digital privacy can be exploited for repression, and that technologies for sharing data can be harnessed to support freedom. More fundamentally, though, we need to extend our core rights themselves into the digital world. For example, we must adapt our notion of freedom of thought to account for the new reality that much of our thinking goes on in digital spaces – as does the management and sharing of our most private information. Preserving individual freedom will now require protecting autonomy with respect to our own data.

Clearly, cultural and regional differences regarding human rights in the analog, physical world are sure to arise in this digital, data-oriented world. We do not seek to resolve those issues, but to develop a clear framework of principles to help provide data, data access and data use the protections they deserve.

Introducing the New and Improved Personal

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

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Today, I am excited to introduce the new and improved Personal. We have been getting it ready for you, the Personal community,  and now it’s finally here. The new Personal is

  • Faster. New streamlined navigation, sorting and filtering gets you where you want to go in an instant.
  • Easier. View your Gems and Gems from your connections together in one easy-to-read screen and see who has private, secure access to them.
  • Personalized. Easily group your Gems using tags and other views like last updated, most viewed, alphabetical and connections.

Here are a few ways to use some of our favorite new features, like tags:

  • Home and Work. Use tags to separate your Gems for home and your Gems for work. For example, you can tag computer, wi-fi and alarm passwords, and other information from around the office with a work tag. Tag the passwords for home computer and other electronics, alarm and wi-fi for around the house with a home tag. Share Gems with family members and co-workers so everyone has easy access to the information when they need it.
  • Kids. You can create a tag for each of your children so that you and your family members can easily access the right information when you need it for school forms, applications and doctors’ appointments.

Take the new Personal for a spin, let us know what you think and read our FAQs for additional information.

We would love to hear about your favorite tags and features, as well as what you would like to see in the future.

‘Personal for Education’: Helping Schools and Families From Preschool through College

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

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Today, Personal launched ‘Personal for Education,’ a set of tools for families and schools to easily organize, securly share and reuse their important personal and educational information. From scholarship and financial aid information to student directories and events, Personal is making your data more accessible, accurate and available on the go.

We were especially excited to launch ‘Personal for Education’ at the White House ‘Education Datapalooza,’ where we were one of several companies invited to present ways that individuals can put their own federal education data to use.

Fast Form Filling for Scholarships and Financial Aid

Soon, you’ll be able to import your federal education data, including information you’ve previously submitted while applying for financial aid, directly to Personal. In an instant, Personal will transform a jumble of data into categories of organized and helpful information. You can then use and reuse your information whenever you want, whether for completing next year’s aid form in seconds or calculating student loan payments. Check out this video to see how it works.

I’m especially excited about our scholarship and financial aid application tool because of the impact it will have on students like Alfredo Loris. Alfredo is an operations intern at Personal. He and his family, like so many, have struggled their way through FAFSA and other aid forms each year. Now in college, but having to apply for aid each year, this product will make a real difference for him and millions of other students. Learn more about Alredo and Personal’s fast form filling for education by watching his video on our Personal for Education page. While you’re there, check out a second moving video about Sharon Gatobu and her sister, both of whom have struggled with financial aid applications.

Secure Sharing for Schools and Families

I’m also proud to say that preschools are already using Personal to securely share and keep parents, teachers and administrators updated with constantly changing information, from key contacts and resources at the school to student directories and event schedules. If the school updates anything, say a change in address or phone number, it’s automatically updated for everyone who has secure access to the information through Personal web and mobile. No more showing up on the wrong day or time for soccer, a play, or your parent-teacher conference.

Want more information? Click on Personal for Education, check out our press release, or email partners@personal.com.

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.

The Era of Small Data Begins

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

This is the first post in a series on the rise of “small data” and the new platforms, tools and rules to empower people with their data. It was written for “The Rise of Big Data” panel at the Stanford Graduate School of Business E-Conference on March 6, 2012.

Big data is big business

More data is created every year or so than has been created in all of human history. In this always-on, always-connected world, where even things are being plugged into the Web, the amount of data is growing exponentially.

The collection, storage, analysis, use and monetization of all that data is called “big data.” Corporations and governments are hyper-focused on becoming big data experts to avoid being permanently left behind. The first movers to master the art and science of big data are already changing the way we live, while disrupting industries and amassing fortunes at speeds never before seen.

Given the stakes, massive investments are being made every year to build the technology and expertise required to succeed in big data, optimized, of course, around the needs of companies and governments, not individuals. Industry experts have likened this big data boom to the early days of “big oil,” and refer to data as the “new oil.” Just as oil was essential to building the modern industrial economy, data has become the lifeblood of the new digital economy.

Companies must learn to compete in big data regardless of their industry, or else face obsolescence. This is a tough challenge and touches all aspects of the operations, strategy and culture of companies. At the same time, opportunities abound as entirely new industries are emerging around data as they did around oil — sourcing, extracting, refining, mining, analyzing, distributing, and selling large sets of data.

Big data creates big problems

With its insatiable appetite for digital bits and bytes on each of us, big data is driving a virtual arms race to capture and exploit information about our every move. Big data will log the life of a child born in 2012 in such a way that the person’s activities will be able to be reconstructed not just by the day, but by the hour or minute. In the hands of bad actors, the potential for wrongdoing with these permanent and growing archives of our lives is real and rightfully concerning.

Yet, until recently, people had virtually no idea of big data’s existence as its tools and marketplaces remained largely hidden. The next generation of tracking and data mining technologies are being created based on the assumption that individuals do not care enough to change their online and mobile behavior, which confuses lack of interest with the current lack of alternatives.

But with privacy and security concerns now front-page news, and the financial triumphs of companies built entirely from personal data such as Facebook, Google and LinkedIn, people are waking up and starting to ask tough questions. While companies and government regulators negotiate over how to curb the most egregious risks and abuses, a new and more powerful model is emerging that is designed around the needs and interests of people, providing them a far better, more sustainable alternative to the status quo.

Enter small data

Small data puts the power and tools of big data into the hands of people. It is based on the assumption that people have a significant long-term competitive advantage over companies and governments at aggregating and curating the best and most complete set of structured, machine-readable data about themselves and their lives – the “golden copy”. With proper tools, protections and incentives, small data allows each person to become the ultimate gatekeeper and beneficiary of their own data.

Built on privacy by design and security by design principles, small data can help people become smarter, healthier, and make better, faster decisions. It can help people discover new experiences more easily, reclaim time in their busy lives, and enjoy deeper, more positive relationships with others.

Small data can also greatly improve the capacity and performance of governments and non-governmental institutions, from eliminating time-consuming forms and other inefficient data practices, to improving public health and education by leveraging the power of more accurate and complete data provided with an individual’s permission. Such institutions can also help share important data with individuals, allowing them to have a copy for their own use.

Applied to commerce, small data holds the promise of connecting people with the best and most relevant products and services in a safe and anonymous environment. It can transform advertising into a more respectful, less disruptive industry that rewards people for their time and engagement with their messages and for their purchases. Small data offers customers the opportunity to better balance and assert their interests with companies (some have called this model Vendor Relationship Management (VRM)). Companies who play by these new rules and earn the trust of individuals will be rewarded with access to rich and robust data otherwise unavailable, giving them instant competitive advantages over companies who choose to go it alone.

The first small data platform – a data vault, private network and apps

Personal has spent over two years designing, building and launching the first scalable small data platform. At its core is a secure data vault to aggregate and store structured and unstructured data from just about any source. A private, personal network sits on top to set permissions for data to enter or exit the vault. People are able to connect with other people through the network, and soon with companies, apps, and private or public institutions, and decide which, if any, of their data they are willing to grant them permission to access.

We have put equal weight on privacy and security, and on helping people leverage their own data in exciting, new ways. These concepts are inextricably linked in small data, which requires a high degree of trust to function properly. Similarly, we have rewritten the legal rules of data ownership to protect and empower users, who we call owners. And, because we know relationships can sometimes end, we have built what we believe is the most complete data portability and deletion capabilities in a data platform. Trust doesn’t work unless you are truly free to leave.

In addition to launching our own apps in the coming months, we are inviting developers to apply for early access to build apps on our platform to show off the power and benefits of small data. Individuals have never imagined the magic of running apps on reusable, structured data about the most important things in their lives, while developers have never assumed having access to such high quality data on which to innovate. The possibilities are limitless.

We are excited to help usher in this new era where permission, transparency and privacy become the norm, and where companies and governments have to align around new rules and provide clear and compelling benefits in order to earn access.

At Personal, we see the future through the lens of small data — and we think it will change everything.