Consumer Controlled Personal Data: An Evolving Story

In January Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer noted:

“A personalized internet is a better internet. To get here we need to have transparency and afford the individual control. It comes down to being able to make a statement that users own their data, which they can examine, take it with them to other sites and vendors that they trust more in a market that helps people make these trade-offs and decisions.”
Marissa Mayer, CEO, Yahoo! (Jan. ‘15)

While Marissa’s comment may seem revolutionary, and in many ways it is, Marissa is connecting with an industry dialog that is over one hundred years in the making. How individuals can play in the collection, management and ownership of their personal data is an important topic, one that society and industry must address since a multi-trillion dollar marketplace (Bender, 2013Cisco, 2013) and individual sovereignty hang in the balance (see vehicle for exoneration or incrimination). 

There is no definitive article or smoking gun that can provide causal evidence to help an organization know exactly what has and is happening in the market around personal data or how they can develop accepted principles and appropriate applications that can leverage it. 

How To Begin

To develop a prospective, let alone a plan, on how to capture value from the appropriate use of personal data, while ensuring its security, management and individuals alike must pull from a tapestry of conversations and informational sources.

One simply needs to search countless, relevant, keywords to start to understand what’s going on in and around the personal data meme. Consider the following (and there are many more):

  • Internet of Things
  • Internet of Everything
  • Wearables
  • Connected Living
  • Smart devices
  • Privacy
  • Freedom of choice
  • Personal data
  • Snowden
  • Vendor Relationship Management
  • Data breaches
  • Identity authentication and management
  • Personal Information Management Systems
  • Personal Identity Management Systems
  • Personal data stores, wallets, lockers
  • Personally Identifiable Information (PII)
  • Non-Personally Identifiable Information (Non-PII)
  • Personal Health Information (PHI)
  • Digital Exhaust
  • Identity theft
  • Malware
  • End-point security
  • Network security
  • Cloud security
  • Big data
  • Regulations
  • Cybercrime
  • Automated, targeted, re-targeted, marketing
  • Quantified self
  • Quantified customer

After sifting through the search results based on these keywords the breath of the dialog that is happening around personal data becomes self-evident.

Again, the role individuals can play in the management and exchange of their own personal data is an important topic given the fact that, unlike in the past, the proper or improper handling of personal data can bring unprecedented benefit and/or material harm respectively to data principals, i.e. the individual subjects the personal data represents.

There are many companies working on developing and/or supporting the ability for industry to offer services to assist individuals in protecting, and to varying degrees take control of and generate value from, their personal data, including:

These companies above are just the tip of the iceberg, there are many more. Moreover, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of professionals and academics producing presentations and papers that shed light on the evolution, use and role that personal data plays within society and industry.

Some of the seminal pieces that I’ve found most impactful to my thinking are listed below and I welcome anyone that has others in mind to reach out to me so we can build on this discussion.

Warren, S., & Brandeis, L. (1890). The Right to Privacy. Harvard Law Review, 4(5).
This was the first paper that  recognized the U.S. individuals legal right to be left alone:

“Recent inventions and business methods call attention to the next step which must be taken for the protection of the person, and for the securing to the individual what Judge Cooley call the right ‘to be let alone.’ Instantaneous photographs and newspaper enterprise have invaded the sacred precincts of privacy and domestic life; and numerous mechanical devices threaten to make good the perdition that ‘what is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed form the house-tops.” (p 193–220).

Ware, W. (1973). Records, Computers and the Rights of Citizens. Santa Monica, CA: The Rand Corporation.

Initial insight in to the development of the U.S. Privacy Act of 1974, recognizes that individuals may need an Ombudsman to help represent them to the market and that the technology of the time is not sufficient to do it.

Laudon, Knneth (1996). Markets and Privacy.  Association for Computing Machinery.

Proposes the need for a national marketplace where consumers can own and control their own data.

Hagel & Rayport (1997). The Coming Battle for Customer Information. Harvard Business Review.

Introduced that fact that consumers will recognize the value of their personal data and expect compensation for its use.

Brohman et. al. (2003).  Data Completeness: A Key to Effective Net-Based Customer Service Systems. Communications of the Arch.           

Introduces the concept that data gaps exists in corporate CRM strategies and only individuals can fill these gaps by providing their own data. The article supports the idea that consumers can become active actors for the exchange of their personal information.

World Economic Forum (2011). Personal Data: The Emergence of a New Asset Class.      

Recognizes that personal data is the “new black oil” a new asset class.

Deighton, J. & Johnson, P. (2013. The Value of Data: Consequences for Insight, Innovation & Efficiency in the U.S. Economy. The Direct Marketing Association.      

Discusses the U.S. personal data exchange marketplace and values it at $156 billion in 2012.

Becker, M. (2014). The consumer data revolution: The reshaping of industry competition and a new perspective on privacy. Palgrave MacMillan.     

Discusses the changing landscape of personal data and privacy and need to invite consumers to the table.

Khatibloo, F. ( 2014). Personal Identity And Data Management (2104). Forester Research.           

Proposes a structure for the personal data marketplace.

Going forward, for organizations, government and individuals, protecting personal data should to take center stage. We all have to start understanding and protecting what matters, not just over our devices or physical self, but over the data that represents and embodies our digital self.

Protection is not just about guarding access to personal data, it is also about managing access to personal data and optimizing the value that can be derived from its proper use (i.e. we need to protect its value too). Data unused has little to no value, but properly used, it can unleash massive personal and commercial value for the individual, enterprises and society at large.

I look forward to your thoughts and will continue conversation on this topic in future posts. Until then…