June 17, 2015 - Comments Off on How to solve a problem like personal data and trust

How to solve a problem like personal data and trust

Our CEO Alex Craven recently spoke at a prestigious event in Brussels where personal data and trust were top of the agenda…

I’ve got trust issues. Could the breakdown of trust between the consumer and our businesses over the way our data is used be the single greatest threat to Europe’s plans for a single digital economy?

The EU is launching an ambitious plan to make trade over digital platforms easier. It’s a plan that aims to unlock €415bn worth of opportunity for the EU economy so markets like the Far East and America will face stiff competition from Europe.

Reading the planned changes to legislation, it seems like a pretty straightforward and sensible plan: removing roaming charges for people travelling across boarders; letting you access your Netflix or Sky content wherever you are; removing the need to understand the VAT regime in the countries you wish to sell your products.

Many more eminently reasonable and welcome changes are planned.

‘Privacy by default’ isn’t the solution

However, one of the areas where the legislation feels weakest to me is in personal data and trust. Incoming changes to the law are geared around ‘privacy by default’ and kite marking terms and conditions.

But while I suppose this is better than doing nothing, it does seem like a clumsy bureaucratic attempt that misses the point.

At the moment we’re gripped by a growing demonisation of organisations using our data – from the trashing of the Care.data initiative, the right to be forgotten, the failed cookie law directive and the constant hysteria over Facebook and Google’s use of data, to the failure of terms and conditions and the mis-selling of PPI (and other issues).

It’s time to look for a bigger and better solution to the trust relationship that needs to exist between the citizen and the state over how our data is used.

Opening the data highway in Brussels

Alex Craven with panellists at the event in BrusselsOn Monday 15th June I was invited to Brussels by Innovate UK and the Digital Catapult to talk about trust and the work we’re involved in with Our Data Mutual and the growing Data City concept.

The event was called ‘Opening the data highway to a single digital market’ where thought leaders discussed the opportunities and barriers to growth for innovative European SMEs.

It was great to meet the new Chief Exec of Innovate UK, Ruth McKernan, and to share the stage with such a great panel.

The opening talks by Ruth, Robert Medelin (Director General at DG Connect) and Neil Crockett (Digital Catapult CEO) set the scene well and reinforced a positive direction of travel for digital on the UK and EU agenda.

How to tackle the breakdown in data trust

But the bit that got my interest was Neil’s section on personal data and trust. Neil set out a challenge; a challenge to tackle the breakdown in trust – not to wait for legislation, but to ‘just get on and do it’.

Fuelled by insights from visits to the Far East, Neil talked about the creation of data banks and the need to change the way we think and work in a world where legislation takes years to develop but digital platforms for data sharing take just months to build to enormous scale.

Enter: Our Data Mutual

My turn on the panel arrived. I tried to set out a vision for a citizen-centric solution to personal data management – a need to create an environment where data is managed as an asset and is used to fuel our economy, make individuals wealthier and, most importantly, to improve and save lives.

It’s the vision of Our Data Mutual.

It seemed to go down well, and the questions from the floor and views of the panellists all seemed to point to the same conclusions – in my mind at least. Here’s a summary of them:

  • It’s our data, so it should be in our control
  • Its use should be managed by simple, automated licencing arrangements
  • We need common standards, set in a single digital economy environment
  • We want our data to be used for good. Privacy by default could prevent this, and demonization is the biggest threat to unlocking the potential of our data
  • We shouldn’t wait to legislate this; the government should fund innovation in this area
  • We should just get on with it

The future of personal data is at a crossroads

At the end of the panel discussion we were asked why we’d agreed to come to the event. I was my usual tactful self of course and explained it was to try to get money for Our Data Mutual and the Data City…

However, it appeared to me that the real reason we were all there was that we each shared a sense of being at a crossroads:

  • One path leads to an ever growing retraction of the way we can use personal data that results in it being locked in internal systems in large companies
  • The other path passes control and ownership back to us, the creators of the asset, so that we’re able to realise its full potential

We’re charging headlong into the data revolution, and it’s going to be much greater than the digital revolution. Whether we get it right is entirely up to us…

So what are we waiting for? Let’s get on with it!

If you’re interested in this topic, please do check out Our Data Mutual. We’re actively seeking start-up funding support and welcoming dialogue with potential supporters.