Personal data has an image problem – and that’s an issue for all of us

Big data is everywhere and supposedly the salve for every problem – but it’s also a noted security issue, something that can be used against us – and both of these mask its real benefits.

That’s the essential premise of this excellent article in The Huffington Post, which looks at why consumers are currently running scared of their data and not using it to its full potential.

As the author Guy Marson explains, bad news travels fast and so large-scale hacks such as Yahoo and TalkTalk are disproportionately elevated in the public consciousness. This means that potential good news stories about what benefits sharing data can bring for consumers find it significantly harder to get traction, reinforcing fears.

To quote Marson: “It’s a crying shame that the potential and opportunities of using data is not well known by the average Joe on the street.

“Our future is going to be built on data and increasing numbers of businesses are currently waking up to that fact. We just need to make sure that as we get more data-savvy, we need to bring the public along with us before they rock those foundations and bring it all crashing down around us.”

We all have a responsibility to educate consumers on the many ways in which data can be used for good – healthcare innovation, for one.

As Marson also points out: “There is definitely some give and take when using consumer data. Unfortunately, in our current climate, it seems customers get told more about the take and less about what data gives them.

“We all hate junk mail, and better use of data by business will practically do away with the spam clogging up our inboxes. At the same time, who wouldn’t be pleased to receive promotions and rewards offered exclusively to them at a time when they needed it?”

While data is certainly widely misused much of the time today, fast-evolving customer attitudes to privacy as well as incoming legislation such as the GDPR in 2018 will change that.

And the opportunity to own, and share if we choose, our own data once again will be a watershed moment.

Personal data is the new oil, the new industry megalith – but it’s one that each of us will ultimately own and control, and it will be a better world for all of us when that comes about.


Children ‘ill-prepared’ for life online and end up sharing too much

A new report has found that children are ill-equipped for the lives they lead online, being left to fend for themselves and signing up to social media accounts where they don’t understand what they are agreeing to share.

The Growing Up Digital report calls for the creation of a new ‘digital ombudsman’ to look out for the rights of children online, as well as compulsory education in schools for children aged 4-14.

With the time children spend online  continuing to increase – 3-4 year olds’ online use increased from 6 hours 48 minutes to 8 hours 18 minutes a week over the last year and 12-15 year olds spend over 20 hours a week online – Growing Up Digital looked at how to equip children with the knowledge they need to engage creatively and positively with the internet, and not be overwhelmed by it.

Led by an expert advisory group, Growing Up Digital found that when children use social media they sign up to impenetrable terms and conditions that they could never be expected to understand. These include clauses which waive their right to privacy and allow the content they post to be sold.

The terms and conditions of Instagram, which is used by 56% of 12-15 year olds and 43% of 8-11 year olds who have a social media account, were tested with a group of teenagers – and none fully understood what they were signing up to. When an expert in privacy law simplified the terms and conditions to make them understandable to the youngsters, many of them shocked by what they had unwittingly signed up to.

Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “Children spend half their leisure time online. The internet is an incredible force for good but it is wholly irresponsible to let them roam in a world for which they are ill-prepared, which is subject to limited regulation and which is controlled by a small number of powerful organisations.

“When it was created 25 years ago, the internet was not designed with children in mind. No one could have predicted its phenomenal growth, nor that it would become ingrained in every aspect of everyday life. We need to rethink the way we prepare children for the digital world.”

Growing Up Digital recommends that every child in the country studies digital citizenship to learn about their rights and responsibilities online and prepare them for their digital lives. It also recommends that social media companies rewrite their terms and conditions so that children understand and can make informed decisions about them. And it asks the Government to implement legislation similar to that being introduced by the EU to protect children’s privacy and data online.

Additionally, it recommends giving children more power to tackle social media companies by appointing a digital ombudsman to mediate between them over the removal of content.


Barack Obama’s social media archive and the power of a searchable self

As America prepares to say goodbye to the first President of the social media era, the White House has announced the creation of a searchable database of everything Barack Obama and his administration posted on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram and Pinterest over eight years and two terms in office.

The archive, in itself, containing over 250,000 posts, photos, and videos shared by more than 100 official Obama White House social media profiles, is impressive – but the intention behind it more so.

By creating this archive and setting a challenge to the public to see how creative they can be with this wealth of data, as well as what practical uses they can find, the White House is demonstrating a keen awareness of how sharing data can benefit the public good.

We’ve been open before about the win-win situation that data-sharing creates, for both businesses large and small as well as users.

In fact it’s the cornerstone of our Internet of Me vision, where individual control starts with the gathering of our personal data in one secure place and then sharing slices of it, if we choose, for personalised services, convenience or rewards.

Data taken and taken from behind our backs, as now by ad tech companies, is widely known to be 30-50 per cent wrong, often misattributed and rarely up to date even if it doesn’t contain major mistakes.

But 100 per cent accurate and deep data, shared with permission, is a building block of innovation and personalisation – and something that is deeply desirable.

And when that’s shared for the good of all, such as health research projects, then the results can benefit us all as well.

So if you want to see why President Obama sees value in having a searchable archive – and get one of your own – come along and find out more about!


Do more with your personal data in 2017

In the spirit of new beginnings and better habits, many of us make New Year’s resolutions around health and work  – but have you considered what you want to do with your data in the next 12 months? Or rather, what you want to start your data doing for you?

If not you should, as online your data is your digital you, and all this information about you, created by you, that is spread far and wide has associated value and power in addition to giving you greater personal insight into key areas of your life.

As our founder Julian Ranger explained recently, when we get access to this wealth of personal data all in one place, great things can happen.

You know at present as a pretty cool social media back-up tool with a vision to help us all get back in control of our data and do more with it.

So we’re very excited to tell you that the first major step in that plan – which we call the Internet of Me – will be taking place very shortly,  when we drop a major new software release that will let users add other data streams including full financials as well as changing the whole look and feel of the app.

The team at HQ in the UK have seen the demos  and continue to be blown away by what our developers have achieved. We can’t wait to share it with you and while it will be a limited beta test initially, we’re planning for a general release within the next couple of months.

So stay tuned, because you will not want to miss out on this!


Did you click? Top 10 blog posts of 2016

Well, what a year it’s been – we started 2016 by telling you that this would be a tranformational year for personal data, and that prediction certainly came true. It was a big year for as well, and we thought it would be fun to round up our most viewed posts of the year. So…

  1. The most read post of the year, by some distance, was our announcement that we had raised £4.2m ($6.1m) in a Series A funding round led by Swiss Re. That was our biggest news of the year, and most important to us both as a business and as a key player in the personal data privacy world, so we’re delighted that so many of you shared our joy.
  2. In at number two was a significant update on the above news, when we were able to tell you that we had closed our Series A round at £5.3m ($7m), following additional investment, including $1m from the impact investment firm created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.
  3. The third best read was a lighter post, featuring a truly terrible picture of me and musings on how photos can lie and deceive, and therefore why we should value one of the important benefits backing up our real life events and memories brings us – rounded memories to enjoy in future years.
  4. Why privacy is a right and not a luxury is one of what we call our vision blogs, discussing why privacy is a human right that all should have automatically regardless of income or location. That is obviously not the case at the moment, particularly in regards to control over our data, but continues to work hard to change this.
  5. The legislative game-changer for 2016 (and the coming years) was the formal agreement of the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which will come into force in 2018 and give users much greater protection and rights over how their personal data is used and stored. Read the key things you need to know here.
  6. This post was one of my personal favourites of the year simply because, as a journalist, I love a good story. And the tale from the first glimmer of in 2009 right up to our continuing evolution now is a cracking one – do read it!
  7. Back to the GDPR (told you it was important!), this time focusing on the four key things you need to know
  8. This was a big technological update from us – the chance to store your personal data securely in the cloud, as well as on your desktop – with an equal level of encryption and security, of course. In this, as in so much else, we continue to evolve, so look out for a VERY EXCITING product update early in 2017!
  9. As mentioned at the top of the post, we forecast that 2016 would be a transformative year for personal data, and so it proved!
  10. And, finally….there was a lot of interest from you in Facebook announcing plans to be at the forefront of data privacy innovation with a consultation report, which was part of. We’re very excited to see what 2017 brings for this.

So that was 2016 – thank you for being part of it! Our best wishes to all of you for a healthy and happy Christmas, and we hope you have a fabulous New Year. See you in 2017!


Were YOU hacked? The top data breaches of 2016

2016 was the year that records kept being broken for topping the league that no-one wants to be part of – biggest data breaches of all time.

MySpace, Yahoo and FriendFinder were the big three (although there were countless ‘smaller’ ones) – all revealed in the last few months, despite being historic breaches.

MySpace seemed – and was – a huge deal when it was announced. It emerged approximately 360m records from the now-defunct platform had been hacked after millions of user names and passwords were made available online.

That seemed a ridiculous number until FriendFinder came along to top it, with 400 million stolen records, spanning 20 years of data. That it operated a lot of 18+ sites including Penthouse merely made it more tantalising (and garnered more press coverage).

But the big daddy of breaches was still to come – although the hack happened back in August 2013, Yahoo only became aware in November that data from ONE BILLION accounts had been stolen. They told the world in December, at the same time becoming the not-so-proud holders – for now – of the biggest data breach to date.

So how do you find out if you were caught up in any of these hacks? Yahoo, for eg, has notified users it thinks were affected, asking them to change their password – and that’s probably best practice if you have an account with any service that has announced a hack. LeakedSource also maintains a database of over two billion records, which you can search to see if your accounts or email has been conpromised.

And if you want to be amazed/freaked out at the same time – check out this excellent site which visualises key data breaches over 30,000 records since 2004. There are a lot…


Why data portability is key to the Internet of Me

The only thing we need to worry about with personal data is getting seamless access to it – the rest will fall into place.

In a recent talk to the Stiftung Datenschutz in Leipzig, our Executive Chairman Julian Ranger revealed how a career as an aeronautical career specialising in the military internet gave him the tools and processes to make

He said his success then – and’s now – was founded on three basic principles – bringing power to the edge, as close as you can, finding a simple solution to complex problems, and interoperability – working really hard to make sure as many things can work together as possible.

He said:”When we look at personal data, we’re all concerned about privacy and consent – but are we using personal data effectively, are we using personal data enough? I don’t want to put a lid on it, I want to use personal data more, but whilst being private and having consent.

“That’s interesting because we seem to be given a Faustian choice – we can have everything we want, but then we have to give up privacy. Or we can do nothing with personal data but we can keep ourselves private.

“Now I don’t want that, I want to do everything possible with personal data, I want as many businesses working with us using my personal data as possible, but I also want to keep it private. And those two sides of the coin are not opposites.

“How do we achieve that? We have to keep it simple – we need to bring our data together if we’re going to make better use of it. When we bring it together for an individual, that’s when privacy comes in.

“The only place where all that data can come together is at the individual. If you bring all that data to the individual, it’s their data. The data can be useful to me, because I own it.

“I’m interested in full privacy, full consent but greater use of your data – and that’s what happens when you own your own personal data.

“But the important point is that data portability is the key. We only need to do one thing – we need our data, so we have to have the right of data portability – it powers the Internet of Me. Not just businesses and devices, but governments have to give your data back. Now countries are already doing this.”

He added that it was crucial to mandate APIs for seamless data flow: “It’s no good me having to constantly go and work hard to get my data, it has to be an automatic flow when I log on, just like it is when I want to get my Facebook data or Twitter or other data.

“That is the one thing that we need to worry about, and if we worry about that, nearly all the other problems will disappear over time, because we are now in control and businesses will come to us.”

“The future is now, it’s here and working now.”


Understanding the Personal Data Economy

Explaining the purpose and vision behind giving users back control over their personal data can be one of the trickiest things we have to do.

While more and more people are becoming aware of what happens to their data behind their backs, and the personal data economy, including solutions such as ours, continues to grow apace, for those needing to start from the basics there is a lot to take in.

In future, that job will be made a lot easier by this excellent whitepaper from the Mobile Ecosystems Forum, which is the result of many interviews, including with our founder and personal data privacy expert Julian Ranger.

This, from the foreword, is an effective summing up of the problems facing the data harvesting industry today, and why a change to an individual-centric is both inevitable and beneficial to all: “Simply, the personal data economy describes a powerful new idea: letting individuals take ownership of their information so they can share it with businesses on their terms.

“Interest in the idea is growing for reasons of efficiency and ethics. The average individual has personal data stored in dozens of different locations. but it can be hard to access this information and then share it. Giving data back to individuals would solve this.

“It would also address the concerns some people have about the way companies accrue data about them and, indeed, many companies would welcome this too. Data harvesting is expensive and can be ineffective; companies are looking for an alternative.”

We have always talked about’s Internet of Me vision, where the user is at the centre of their connected life, being a true win-win for both users and businesses, and the paper explores this in depth in a way that is accessible and interesting for all.

I thoroughly recommend a full read of it – especially as at 33 pages it’s reasonably short and concise!




Is personal data ethics the new environmental concern? Yes it is!

Data is so defining to the era we live in that it has been called the Fourth Industrial Revolution – yet many are still not aware of its raw power, or the importance of data ethics to each of our lives in the here and now.

Data is not an equivalent to gold, oil, or a synonym for profit- but an individual’s virtual DNA, body and fingerprints. Data is humans, each of us, all of us, and the sum of our lives and activities – and as such is immensely valuable and powerful.

But currently it is used in a way that locks those who actually create it out of any benefit.

In a new book, Data Ethics – the New Competitive Advantage by Gry Hasselbalch and Pernille Tranbergthe authors compare the current awareness of the need for ethics in personal data to environmental concern, which two decades ago was only just coming to public prominence.

Many companies did not take being green seriously back then – and yet now recycling and so much more is commonplace, as we all acknowledged the impact of our behaviour on our planet, and changed it for the better, along with our notions of what was acceptable in society or business. That’s why sound business practices today are also green practices.

They issue a rallying cry for data ethics to become “a new compass to guide us” saying: “Across the globe, we’re seeing a data ethics paradigm shift take the shape of a social movement, a cultural shift and a technological and legal development that increasingly places humans at the centre.”

There are certainly signs that consumers are not just aware of their lack of control over their personal data, and ultimately privacy, but taking action to try and and reverse this, with the use of ad blockers and encryption services on the rise globally.

And businesses too, are becoming more aware of data from an ethical perspective, “moving from a huge focus on big data to embracing sustainable data use.”

Astonishingly, because of risks associated with holding and using personal data, Gartner has predicted that by 2018 50pc of business ethics violations will be caused by improper use of big data.

Among many fascinating ideas and opinions expressed in the book is the idea of a looming digital hangover, caused by growing awareness that our data has “a secret life in a big data society.”

This rings so true – our data has always been out there, being sold, being traded, used in (often vastly inaccurate) attempts to profile us so we can be targeted with ads, but only now is that becoming widely known by the population in general.

Data is the foundation of many business models, from the Googles and Facebooks of this world down, but always to the benefit of those companies, not the individuals whose data is being sold. The book calls this the “invisible price” we pay for using these services for free, noting that this is the web’s preferred payment method.

But things are changing. As another memorable line in the book states: “Most people would like to decide for themselves just who knows what exactly about them and when.”

We are moving towards an era where privacy-aware consumers and regulation are combining to make data not just centered around the individual, but something they have control over. It still has value and power, of course, but this will increasingly benefit the individual and no longer companies trading it.

It is clear that regulation, such as the incoming GDPR, will help drive momentum in this area, but the book makes it clear that individuals must also take responsibility over their own data.

Nowadays, privacy is becoming a differentiator – a deliberate policy setting companies apart from their peers.

At, for example, one of our core brand statements is that we never see, touch nor hold any user data ever. It’s not held centrally, each user gathers and holds it in a secure, personal library of their choice, we just give them the means to download and normalise their data from various sources.

And this sets us apart from other services, similar in some ways, which also collect user data together and offer choices over what you can do with it, but hold that data themselves, or in a shared cloud.

Also key to our personal data vision is what we call the Internet of Me – putting the user back at the centre of their connected world, in charge of their data and what is shared with whom.

This chimes well with several studies into sharing by Carnegie Mellon professor Alessandro Acquisti that have concluded, among other things, that the more privacy and the more control users think they have over their data, the more they dare to share about themselves.

Consented sharing, whether for personalised benefits or services or something else, also means better, 100pc accurate data is available for those wishing to innovate.

This, in turn, gives science and the business world the opportunity to devise and offer better products and services – which is better for all of us.

So greater personal data ethics are not only important for privacy, they will benefit society as a whole. Let’s just hope it catches on in the same way as going green did.


Friend Finder massive personal data breach shows why French mega database is a bad idea

Personal details from 412 MILLION accounts registered on the adult Friend Finder Network have been leaked in one of the biggest data breaches so far seen.

Dwarfing the number of users affected by the Ashley Madison and MySpace leaks, and second only to the 500m accounts leaked in the 2014 Yahoo attack that only recently came to light, this breach saw information including email addresses and passwords released.

The attack, which took place last month, was Friend Finder Network’s second attack in under two years, making it clear just how inviting and attractive targets with huge honeypots of data can be.

This is one reason why the mega personal data base France is planning, which will hold personal information on the 60 million people living there who hold a French identity card or passport, is a bad idea, particularly for privacy.

Aimed at decreasing identity theft, the rationale behind it is hard to criticise – but the execution is flawed.

As shown by the WhatsApp/Facebook data sharing change, the stated aim of anything is not always how it ends up – and French people should, rightly, be concerned about how intrusive this could be if other datasets were added in the future.

It is clear that anywhere holding huge amounts of data makes themselves a target for hackers – and the information held is inevitably vulnerable, threatening individual privacy.

So much better, as in the Internet of Me vision, for each individual to be the holder and controller of their own data, able to share it as and when needed on their terms.

Not only does this put the personal back in personal data, and mean we are each back in control of the information which we create, but companies and governments then need to ask for rather than take it without our permission.

Additionally, and to the benefit of all, these huge honeypots of data are also diminished.

Information is powerful – and we all need to do everything to keep our own secure – including working towards a better plan for personal data storage generally in the future.