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 digi.me, 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 digi.me 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.


Why the US elections show us Big Data will never trump personal data

Whatever you think about the result of the US election, it’s widely acknowledged that there was a failure of polling.

In just a few hours, what seemed an assured but narrow victory for Hillary Clinton morphed into the landslide win of Donald Trump.

The reason – as with Brexit, where very similar happened – seems quite straightforward; that people minded to vote for a candidate or policy featuring non-liberal views or characteristics tend not to shout about it, and may well even lie.

Now, this is completely their right – but the issue comes when pollsters assume their population sample is a robust indicator and apply it to the population at large.

There’s a whole debate to be had about why so many people are disenfranchised, and the role played by journalism and social media in feeding this – but that’s not one for this blog.

Our interest is purely in the data – the data that was ultimately inaccurate. The data that is likely to put the whole polling industry’s credibility at stake.

While time may show us exactly what went wrong, it will have to be a factor that when data from one cohort is applied to all others, essentially when people are depersonalised from their own data, that errors can creep in. And that’s without reckoning with bias, margin of error and all the other fun that polling inherently brings.

Our data, our views – the thoughts, feelings and actions that belong to and make up each of us, need to stay with us for maximum accuracy. In the same way that we are the best guardians of our own health and financial data, when our polling (or any other important data) is associated with us, rather than pulled away to become part of a population average, it’s likely to be more accurate – and therefore more useful.

If both political polling and political journalism need to undergo a regeneration, then maybe polling and voter intention methodology does too.

One thing is sure – keeping our own data where we can share it, not anyone else, in a true Internet of Me, can only be a good thing in so many areas going forward.


Facebook v Admiral – or better ways to share personal data for discounts in a user-friendly fashion

When you take away all the twists and turns of Admiral v Facebook, this whole saga boils down to innovation being stifled by who controls your data.

If you choose to share your personal data in exchange for a deal or discount if you meet the criteria, that can only be a good thing, right?

Well, not when that data is actually part of your Facebook profile, and a car insurance giant is trying to use it to see whether 17 to 21-year-olds – traditionally expensive to insure as they’re inexperienced and statistically prone to risky behaviour – could qualify for cheaper premiums.

On the face of it, Admiral Car Insurance’s new firstcarquote app seemed like a good idea. Volunteer (and that word is important) to share some of your Facebook data with the insurance provider, and if an algorithm run over it picked up characteristics of a careful driver, then your premium would go down.

No brainer, right? Well, no – it was a plan that fell at the first hurdle, as Facebook was quick to block the app as being in violation of its platform terms and conditions, which don’t allow data obtained from the site to be used to check eligibility and which, to be fair, Admiral should have been aware of.

Facebook’s block was, in turn, welcomed by the Open Rights Group, whose Executive Director Jim Killock said “We need to think about the wider consequences of allowing companies to make decisions that affect us financially or otherwise, based on what we have said on social media.

“Young people may feel pushed into such schemes because of financial constraints. The right to keep things private shouldn’t be the preserve of those who can afford it.”

The Information Commissioner’s Office also cautioned against social data being used in this manner, with the UK’s data watchdog telling ITPro: “The law says that the use of personal information must be fair.

“A key part of that fairness is ensuring that people are informed about how their data will be collected and used and it is processed fairly. This applies to using personal information acquired from social networking sites.

“We are paying particular attention to the increasing use of new ‘social scoring’ techniques to ensure that these developments proceed in accordance with the law.”

In a further twist, it also brought to the fore reports from last year that Facebook already has its own patent for using the site’s social graph to establish creditworthiness, although no further details about that planned use have yet emerged.

But actually, when you take away all the twists and turns, this whole saga boils down to innovation being stifled by who controls data.

If a young driver is happy to allow Admiral’s app to scan his or her profile, looking at text only, to determine whether they appear to be a careful driver, they have now lost that chance.

It’s scanning their data, uploaded by them, and using the app is voluntary and – at this stage – could only result in a discount, but that opportunity – innovative and useful to both sides, a clear value exchange – has been denied.

Think how different this would be in the digi.me vision of the Internet of Me – where the individual is at the centre of their connected world, in control of their data and who it is shared with.

In that world, Admiral asks for permission through the digi.me app to access the user’s data, being clear about what it is for and what will be offered in exchange, and the user says yes or no. If it’s affirmative, data processing can be done on the app, meaning the data never even has to leave its secure library.

Admiral gets the information it needs to make a thorough assessment, and the user gets a discount on their car insurance, assuming they qualify.

But, crucially, it is the user who makes the choice about whether they are happy for their data to be used in this manner.

Trust is crucial to sharing, but control is even more important to ensure that users are free to use data that belongs to and was created by them.

Time for a change in who owns what, if we want to be the masters of our own identity – for better or for worse!



digi.me announced as finalists in the Meffys Awards 2016

Digi.me is delighted to announced that we have been shortlisted in the Consumer Trust category for this year’s Meffy Awards.

We’re one of six finalists in this category at the awards, which are run by the Mobile Ecosystem Forum and which will be judged at a sparkling event in London on December 1 as part of MEF London Week.

With record entries from 30 countries for the nine award categories in this, the 13th year of the Meffy awards, we’re delighted to have made the cut.


European call for more individual control of personal data

More can and should be done to give individuals increased control over how their personal data is collected and used online, the European Data Protection Supervisor has said.

In a published opinion on Personal Information Management Systems (PIMS), Giovanni Buttarelli said the new GDPR regulations, which become law in 2018 and allow for increased transparency, data portability and the right to forget among other measures, should be seen as a foundation for personal data sovereignty and the fight to regain control over our online identities, not the final word.

He said:“Our online lives currently operate in a provider-centric system, where privacy policies tend to serve the interests of the provider or of a third party, rather than the individual.

“Using the data they collect, advertising networks, social network providers and other corporate actors are able to build increasingly complete individual profiles. This makes it difficult for individuals to exercise their rights or manage their personal data online.

“A more human-centric approach is needed which empowers individuals to control how their personal data is collected and shared.”

The fundamental idea behind PIMS services, although they differ wildly in how this is done, is that individuals are in control of their data, deciding when and with whom it is shared, collectively strengthening the human right to privacy in the digital world.

Here at digi.me, our Internet of Me vision is just that – the belief, core to everything we do, that the individual should hold their own data, and be the sole decider of what is shared.

Because another of our fundamental operating principles is that we never see, touch nor hold ANY user data, only enabling its download and storage, we are at the cutting edge of this emerging technology field, offering maximum privacy to users.

As growing awareness of the current mass misuse of personal data grows, the desire for privacy is growing rapidly, and with it services offering just that are emerging to meet this demand.

So it is hugely heartening to see the EDPS explicitly encouraging the European Commission to support the development of innovative digital tools that work to increase user privacy and control over data, as well as taking policy initiatives that “inspire the development of economically viable business models that faciliate their use.”

The effective implementation of technological, economic and legal initiatives around personal data, combined with continuing innovation, will help all of us take back control of our online identities.

And that can’t come soon enough.





Pitch at Palace: vote for digi.me to win the People’s Choice Award!

We’re one of 42 finalists competing for the People’s Choice Award in the Duke of York’s Pitch at Palace event, and we’d love your vote to try and help us win!

You can watch Julian’s pitch video and vote for us here – we’d really appreciate it.

Thank you in advance for helping to spread the word about our great app and plans for the future of personal data!


Digi.me featured on Entrepreneur

Personal data and the lack of consumer trust and control over what is held by others is becoming one of the defining issues of our times.

And our founder and chairman Julian Ranger is now firmly established as an expert in how this can all be handled so much better than at present.

He is quoted extensively in this new Entrepreneur.com article looking at 4 Ways the Fight Over Data is Getting Way More Personal, which covers the fact Facebook effectively has a global monopoly as well as how new European regulation will change the face of personal data.

It also looks at how both technological advancements and public opinion are both challenging the status quo, with a focus on digi.me and its vision to bring back control to the user, putting them at the centre of their connected world in the Internet of Me.

It’s well worth reading in full, and is summed up by this very apt statement: “It will be exciting to see how entrepreneurs step into this space. In the same way that the Internet connected us in a way that few people could have imagined, returning data to its owners could change the Internet into a vastly different place yet again.”

Hurrah to that!


Digi.me through to finals of Pitch@Palace 6.0!

Here at digi.me, we’re delighted to be able to tell you that we’re one of the finalists in the Duke of York’s Pitch@Palace 6.0.

Our founder and executive chairman, Julian Ranger, will attend Boot Camp at the Harwell Space Campus in Oxfordshire with the other finalists this Friday.

There, a panel of judges will choose up to 15 companies to actually pitch at the grand final, on November 2 at St James’s Palace in London, although all finalists will attend.

Excitingly, in addition to the main pitching spots, there is also a People’s Choice award up for grabs – and each finalist will make a one-minute video encouraging people to vote for them.

We look forward to sharing ours with you as soon as it’s ready (likely to be October 17) – so get those voting fingers ready!


Digi.me founder joins Kantara Initiative board to further global personal data vision

Julian Ranger, the founder and executive chairman of digi.me, has been invited to join the board of global identity experts Kantara Initiative.

As the personal data economy continues to grow apace, companies industry-wide are looking to Kantara to forge the best possible community framework to encourage sustained innovation and growth for all.

With its recent £5.3m Series A raise digi.me, which will also join the organisation, and Julian are expertly placed to add to and develop the innovation already present.

Kantara has made a name for itself as a hub for inventors, thinkers and innovators thanks to its can-do attitude and proven ability to construct solutions to complex data and privacy problems. This includes the Consent Receipt specification, designed to turn on its head the traditional business and consumer relationship and put the user back in control.

Digi.me also has a proven record in finding innovative technical solutions to personal data and privacy problems, and will imminently release a consented sharing Permission Access platform, which will allow users to gather together all their health and financial details and share them, if they wish, with businesses in exchange for personalised benefits.

Julian, the creator of STASYS’ iSMART process, the de facto standard for military communications interoperability worldwide, said: “Ecosystems grow faster when systems can interoperate and businesses are more likely to be used by other businesses if their solutions do not lock users in.

“As one of the most well funded personal data start-ups strongly committed to interoperability, which Kantara has a strong track record in, we are happy to do so on behalf of the whole ecosystem and not just digi.me. After all as the ecosystem grows, so will opportunities for us.”

“We are delighted to welcome Julian and digi.me on board,” said Allan Foster, president, Kantara Initiative.  “Julian’s expertise and experience will prove invaluable to Kantara’s mission to develop innovative initiatives to drive the digital identity transformation.  Personal data is an important element of this transformation.”

Colin Wallis, executive director, Kantara Initiative, added, “Everyone in the personal data arena knows that serious innovation is needed – and quickly.  We need to continue moving forward toward standards development, specifications and taxonomies – the fuel that will drive this new community. We look forward to Julian and digi.me helping make that happen.”

Julian will join a truly global board, with members from the US, Canada and Japan, over half of which reside outside the US.