Data Privacy

How the Microsoft president’s vision for democratising data comes to life today in

It is rare you switch on the radio and hear the head of one of the biggest technology companies in the world not only extolling your vision of a personal-data-driven future, but laying out a solution which chimes exactly with your work. But it happened this week.

Brad Smith, the president of software giant Microsoft, gave a fascinating interview to BBC Radio 4 to publicise his new book Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age, which focused heavily on the need for technology companies to do good, and especially to empower consumers with their own data.

He told presenter John Humphrys that “technology remains a powerful tool for good to help us address the problems that ail the world” and said he wrote the book as a wake-up call to “bring the message to communities around the world and for industry to step up and take responsibility and governments to move faster and do more.”

In terms of data ownership, he couldn’t have articulated more clearly the vision we bring to life today in when he said: “Fundamentally we own our own data as citizens, as consumers we need to own our own data.

“We need the tech companies that store this data to act as responsible stewards of our data, that’s the way we are seeking to approach this at MS (Microsoft).”

Talking about the need for data to not only be owned by individuals, but easily shared to fuel innovation – another passion of ours – he said: “We also need new approaches so people can share data, not just individuals but the great institutions researching a cure for cancer, the companies that are working together to be more competitive.

“We need governments to open up data because many of the answers we will be seeking in the future for environmental questions, economic opportunities will require more effective use of data. But we can’t see it falling into the hands of just a few large companies.”

When asked about the new business models this would create, he added: “I think fundamentally what the world will benefit from most is a set of business models that empowers each individual and especially each organisation to get the most value out of its own data, to makes its own decisions on when to share data with others and most importantly to use that data to drive its own innovations around artificial intelligence and basically every product in our lives.”

In terms of the shift to individuals owning their data, from companies and other third parties, so they can share it on their own terms, he said: “We need to build on the recent advances and protection of privacy, we need to build on the opportunities that exist today, for people to go online and see what data companies have on them, and exercise effective control on it.

“We need, as well, to do for data what the open source movement did for software code. It democratised code and we need to democratise data so that people can make the most effective use of their own information.”

Asked what would happen if this doesn’t come to pass, he said: “If all of this doesn’t happen then we will fail to create the kind of future that people want to see.”

We really couldn’t have put it better ourselves.