The Berlin Wall, a watchtower and data empowerment

The Watchtower at the Gropius-Bau Museum in Berlin.

I’m in Berlin discussing digital identity and data empowerment at the World Frontiers Forum. The 2-day event is being held quite purposely at a site adjacent to the former Berlin Wall on the 30th anniversary of its fall (on November 9, 1989).

It’s also the city where I was tasked by Nokia – in 2009 – to figure out a strategy on what to do with data on 1.2 billion Nokia users. A colleague and I decided that very night, not so far from the former Stasi headquarters, to build a platform for people to take control of their own data and use as they choose.

It was instantly clear to us how different the world might have been if the East German surveillance state had the means to know what 1.2 billion people were doing, where they were going, what they were reading, and who they were communicating with. The authoritarian risk has only grown in the last 10 years (see China and its active export of its surveillance tools).

With the artist who created The Watchtower – Nadia Kaabi-Linke (she says it’s actually based on a hunter stand, which, unlike a watchtower, is designed to be hidden).

I first came to Berlin on a fellowship as a young high school student in 1987. The experience of seeing both sides of ground zero of the Cold War was as close to a life changing experience as a suburban kid from Jacksonville, Florida could have. For the first time, I felt a complete loss of control to a force that was (mostly) faceless and nameless and watching my every move. That included a frightening encounter with a voice from a watchtower loudspeaker that ordered me to move away from a forbidden zone by the Wall and a small river.

That experience rushed back to me yesterday visiting an art installation at the Gropius-Bau Museum called The Watchtower. Walking in the room and seeing the menacing shadow on the wall and floor, I found myself backing away until I was pressed against the window frame on the opposing wall.

My next thought was that I couldn’t understand the origin of the shadows. I searched for the light and model but couldn’t find them (spoiler alert: it turns out they were painted). The artist, Nadia Kaabi-Linte (also attending the artist inspired WFF), was accompanying us. She confirmed another person’s view that it represented, in part, the unseen tracking and exploitation of our lives by companies and governments.

I turned to look out the window. The view was of remains of the Berlin Wall and the location of the former Gestapo headquarters (now a museum of that regime of terror). I couldn’t have tied together my lifetime of experiences any more powerfully. It’s time for people to be empowered with their data and identity. Enough. Genug.

View of the remnants of the Berlin Wall and entrance to the former Gestapo headquarters from the window of The Watchtower art installation.

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.

Digi.me going prime time

I had the chance yesterday to speak with Paula Newton on CNN’s Quest Means Business. I thought she was going to focus on the Congressional hearings earlier in the day with Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and Jack Dorsey of Twitter, but she really wanted to understand how digi.me works. She’s done quite a lot of stories on how our data and privacy is being abused by the big platforms, so it was refreshing to see her interest in solutions like ours.

We discussed our new app ecosystem, why it’s so interesting for developers, and how we empower people with their data if the data is already “out there” (a question I get all the time). You’ll have to watch the interview to learn more.

It was fun to visit the studio here in Washington. I was in the makeup room with Wolf Blitzer as the news of the mystery New York Times op-ed was breaking. Of course, the first tweet on my interview asked why CNN was talking about privacy and data given the other news. At least I didn’t get bumped!

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Why Personal.com “graduated” to TeamData today

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Ben Horowitz was right after all. He told us a few years ago that our model of user-centric data management was all wrong for consumers, but that it just might work in the enterprise. Realizing we weren’t buying, he sent a nice follow up email to encourage us to seriously consider changing our focus. We were so convinced we were right I’m not even sure if we wrote back (sorry Ben).

Today Personal.com and our Personal Data Cloud solution are becoming TeamData, a reflection of our shift toward solving critical information management and data collaboration needs of companies and their employees, as well as with consultants, vendors and customers.

Enter the enterprise. Despite game-changing transformation from team productivity and collaboration solutions in recent years, employees still have to hack their own standalone solutions to organize the information they constantly need to get stuff done — like spreadsheets, notes apps and even contact cards in their address book. Meanwhile, email, messaging, calls and in-person interruptions remain the standard for requesting and sharing data. Entire classes of jobs continue to exist solely to organize, manage and update information manually for teams and their members.

 

A MindMap showing approx. 10% of the data graph of a company

Most existing solutions for team productivity excel at unstructured data (e.g. files or notes) or messaging and project management. And the few products that understand data, like password managers and digital wallets, are limited in the types of data they manage and their security was not designed for collaboration.

The reality is we’re all still kickin’ it old school when it comes to organizing and sharing information.

Current solutions do not solve the complex challenges of structured, reusable data — which is hard to protect, growing exponentially, changing constantly and needed in super-unique combinations for different lengths of time by people inside and outside of companies.

That’s because data is a related, but altogether different game that requires deep understanding of the data itself combined with granular permissions to enable its reuse in limitless combinations while providing entirely new types of security (e.g. we follow Privacy-by-Design principles).

As we started re-architecting the Personal.com platform and data library for team collaboration six months ago, early adopters started reporting compelling evidence of the benefits. Here is one recent example from Onboardly for content marketing teams:

All time top tools to keep your team on track…Securely stores just about all the details that your brain doesn’t ever seem to absorb.” — Onboardly

 

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What’s so special about networked, structured data is that it can be reused over and over across an entire company, and everyone with permission automatically has access to the most up to date version when anyone makes a change (they can also have their access turned off).

There is literally only one copy of the company name, address and Federal Tax ID in a TeamData graph. One instance of the company social media account logins, demo server credentials, and visitor wi-fi. And so on, for over 1,200 different types of data covering thousands of different tasks.

Finally, networked, machine-readable data will also unlock new kinds of innovation when employees and companies grant permission to apps and analytics tools, like the new generation of AI-driven digital assistants.

We are still passionate about our vision to empower consumers with data. We already see employees starting to form teams outside of the office using their private data, and know they will discover whole new ways to use our tools.

For now, we’re excited to keep our heads down and keep solving all the challenges companies and employees face every day. Give it a try and let us know what you think — teamdata.com.

This post was originally published here in Medium.