Even if you ignore privacy, old-school data sharing is just so tedious

Technological innovation is a boon to time, to data sharing and to the imperfect nature of human beings who are far too capable of losing forever things that are precious to them.

In our time-poor society, there is a marked desirability for anything that does a task more efficiently – and that applies to the storage and search of personal data as much as anything else.

Consider an ongoing case study from yours truly. My parents being of an age where they are minded to get everything in order, piles of documents and photos have been arriving frequently from my childhood home.

These, encompassing school reports, baby pictures and all manner of things inbetween, are fascinating to look back on and hold emotional and entertainment value for me now, as well as potentially my children in the future.

But these flimsy paper and card memories have done well to get this far reasonably unscathed bar the odd coffee stain – and won’t last indefinitely unless I scan them to make them into a more permanent record by the standards of our time. Which, to be fair, is pretty unlikely.

Not to mention that they can’t simply be pinged over in an email, requiring physical transport as well as storage on arrival. So you’ve got to be very determined to share them successfully, and confident the recipient will like them enough to keep hold of them safely.

Consider the difference with photographs, in particular, now – synced to the cloud, stored on our phones or computers to leaf through at will – and its clear how much the shift to digital has revolutionised our data as well as our lives.

My parents are reasonably tech savvy these days, but my children will never know the delights (and frustrations) of waiting to get your holiday photos back from the chemist, so you could see what you’d actually taken and whether it was remotely in focus.

To them – to all of us, these days – pictures are as instant as the memories that generate them. And in all likelihood will survive longer.

Life still has to catch up with technology in terms of what happens to our collections of data after we die, but they exist at scale, and can be stored and shared with ease by both parties.

Which is pretty magnificent in itself.



Digi.me featured in The Economist as the way forward for personal data sharing

It’s always a delight to read a thought-provoking article in a news magazine you admire and find an unexpected reference to the good work your company is doing.

That was my happy experience earlier in the week, when the article, with a snappy tagline of ‘Should our bankers and insurers be our Facebook friend?‘ had already drawn me in (headlines like Big data, financial services and privacy have a tendency to do that.)

The piece is an explanation of what one contributor calls “an intensifying data arms-race in finance” – or the fact that additional factors, such as posts, language and tone on social media posts, are increasingly being used to help decide insurance premiums.

As ever when data is scattered freely without thought for potential consequences, having someone delving in your digital life that you didn’t expect to see there can go either way.

As the article explains: “Data can improve predictions of whether someone will fall ill or drive into a tree. Good algorithms are faster and cheaper than underwriters. Insurers also claim that the better they know customers, the more they can help change bad habits.”

Good potential use case -the insurer finds someone is about to do a bungee jump, but his or her life insurance policy doesn’t cover this – cue offering an add-on for a more tailored product.

But, as ever, there is a flip side as well: “The riskiest customers, and those offline, might be priced out. The more the industry relies on complex—and proprietary—algorithms, feeding machines that keep learning, the harder it will be for customers, and regulators, to untangle why they were rejected. ”

As the article makes clear: “Algorithms can be wrong. A bilingual speaker’s search-engine entries could look erratic; a social-worker’s location-tracker could imply a risky lifestyle.”

And since it is unclear how judgments are made, says Frederike Kaltheuner, from Privacy International, “you could get stuck in a Kafkaesque situation where you’re put in a certain box and can’t find out why, and can’t get out.”

While regulation, and indeed customers themselves, have a role to play in this, it is technology that will ultimately find ways to make this work for all parties. And that is where digi.me comes in.

“New businesses that give people more control over data, such as digi.me, which lets users share data only with those they want, hold promise. If such tools help users become their own data-brokers, they may be willing to share more data with their mortgage lenders or insurers,” the article states.

“But trust will truly be earned only if financial firms, old and new, get ahead of the game and start talking to customers about what’s really going on behind their screens.”

So, ultimately, leaving the customer out of the equation while mining their data is going to fall out of favour, and fast.

The individual at the centre of their connected world, as in the Internet of Me model, in control of their data and what happens to it, is very definitely the future.


Mozilla Internet Health Report: what lies ahead for the web?

As the web wraps ever tighter around us, Mozilla’s open-source Internet Health Report is investigating what is helping (and hurting) our greatest shared global resource.

The aim is to start a conversation with the “citizens of the internet” about what is healthy, what is not – and what lies ahead for the ecosystem as it continues to evolve, along with a proliferation of connected devices.

The initial version covers familar Mozilla topics like decentralisation, open innovation, and online privacy and security; through to newer areas like digital inclusion and web literacy.

Chosen because they are all deeply intertwined, Mozilla believes these issues and the choices we make around them have a deep impact on how the internet functions.

A Mozilla blog explains: “The Internet of Things, autonomous systems, artificial intelligence: these innovations will no doubt bring good to our lives and society. However, they will also create a world where we no longer simply ‘use a computer,’ we live inside it.

“This changes the stakes. The Internet is now our environment. How it works — and whether it’s healthy — has a direct impact on our happiness, our privacy, our pocketbooks, our economies and democracies.”

So the health of the internet becomes of critical interest to us all, and we all need to play our part in creating a global movement to safeguard it.

The blog goes on to say: “We need to help people understand what’s at risk and what they can do.

“We have started work on the Internet Health Report at Mozilla for exactly this reason. It is an open source project to document and explain what’s happening to this valuable public resource.”

To find out more about contributing to future versions of the report, click here.

Ad-blocking up 30pc in 2016 as privacy becomes a hot button topic

A new worldwide report into ad-blocking has found that 615 million devices globally are blocking ads on the web.

To put that in context, that figure represents over one in ten people online, and is also up 30 per cent in 12 months.

The state of the blocked web survey, by Adblock, presents a combined picture of desktop and mobile adblock usage for the first time, and found that ad-blocking on mobile is exploding, particularly in Asia.

Key stats to be aware of:

  • 615 million devices now use adblock
  • 11% of the global internet population is blocking ads on the web
  • Adblock usage grew 30% globally in 2016
  • Mobile adblock usage grew by 108 million to reach 380 million devices
  • Desktop adblock usage grew by 34 million to reach 236 million devices
  • 74% of American adblock users say they leave sites with adblock walls
  • Adblock usage is now mainstream across all ages

Certainly privacy is one of the key drivers fuelling this phenomenon, as people tire of intrusive ads tracking them around the web, although the ads’ impact on page loading speed as well as bloated pages eating through data allowances are also significant factors.

So what does the ad-blocking surge mean for the privacy landscape?

Well, the numbers involved are obviously significant, which means we have a rapidly-growing online population that will modify online behaviour to avoid things that worry or irritate. And they’re doing it at scale, and across all devices, with the mobile ad-blocking increase predicted to hit North America and Europe next.

Also control is key – while this is not a revolt against digital advertising per se, rather the methods it employs, the internet population is increasingly showing it won’t be forced to watch or download things it doesn’t want to, because there is now another way.

With awareness around personal data issues also growing exponentially, this is heartening news – because the old ways are being disrupted in this industry, too, and technology such as digi.me is innovating in a way which again will benefit the consumer with minimal hassle to implement.

So all hail the ad-blocking army – user control and willingness to use a tech solution that shows a better way is good news for everyone driving the Personal Data Economy forward to a person-centred Internet of Me.

Major new privacy research shows worry for safety of personal data

New digital privacy research from the Pew Center in the US has found that nearly two thirds of Americans have personally experienced a data breach, and that a sizeable share of the public believes that their personal data has become less secure in the past five years.

The research, part of an ongoing series that has previously found that many  participants felt they had lost control of their personal data, was carried out midway through 2016, a year particularly notable for its cyber breaches.

It found that overall 64 per cent of adults who took part had experienced some kind of data breach. These included 41 per cent who had issues with fraudulent use of credit cards, 35 per cent receiving notices that some kind of sensitive information such as an account number had been compromised and 16  per cent having someone take over their email accounts.

Over and above this, 49 per cent feel that their personal data is less secure than it was five years ago – and the two entities they trust least to keep their data safe are the federal government and social media platforms. Interesting, 64 per cent also have at least one online account containing sensitive data such as health or financials.

So what can we learn from this? That the threat of having data or accounts hacked is alive and well, because current collection methods collate data from all users together, creating a massive honeypot for would-be hackers.

We can also conclude that people feel forced to entrust their data to businesses and services that they are not convinced will take care of it, because they have no other option if they want to access them.

Overall, this is a picture of an industry ripe for change and disruption – a new way of storing data that puts individuals back in control of what they create, able to hold it in a secure place of their choosing, and then do with it what they choose, on their terms.

This is a picture of an industry – and a society – very much in need of the Internet of Me – and we’re working every day to make that a reality as quickly as possible.

The Internet of Me: consented data sharing that benefits us all

This Data Privacy Day, make it your mission to learn more about the Internet of Me – and how it can benefit each and every one of us.

The Internet of Me, which is supported by digi.me, is a vision of the world about which we are very passionate; a world where people own and control their own information and can do more with it, opening up new possibilities for insight and innovation.

The forum has covered many important subject areas, but some of the highlights are below:

Happy reading – and do let us know if you have any ideas for subject areas we should be covering.

How sharing more personal data can lead to greater privacy online

The very concept of online privacy is often described as a myth, and while it’s not hard to see why, it’s more wrong now than it has ever been.

Yes, our personal data is scattered about the web, traded, sold on and held in multiple places that we can neither access nor delete – but the dominance of that situation will soon be the past, with the glorious forces of the Internet of Me riding in to replace it.

The IoM will enable all of us, no matter who we are, to take back control of our data and shape what happens to it and who is allowed to see it.

We don’t benefit from our data being traded at the moment, but the Internet of Me will flip that so that we are the primary beneficiaries, sharing that data on our own terms only when we are happy with what is offered in return.

And businesses win too, finally getting access to data that is 100 per cent accurate and rich in both depth and time – just what innovation needs. And society needs innovation, especially in areas such as health where a mass of accurate data can be hard to obtain.

Of course, online privacy has always been fluid when set against the norms of the offline world.

But the last decade has also seen personal perceptions of privacy change and evolve dramatically with the explosion in online services and social networks on which many of us regularly post huge amounts of personal information.

So how does all of this combine to create a more private world? The simple answer is technology, more specifically digi.me and other application advances that mean processing can be brought to the data, instead of data always having to be handed over.

At the very heart of the digi.me vision is the abilty for each individual having their data in a 100 per cent secure and private library under their control that we, the company, can never see, touch nor hold.

But the arrival soon of our Consented Access platform means you will be able to share your data with a company without it ever leaving your handset, as they can give permission for an app to simply run an algorithm over your data, which returns only the results and means the data never leaves your device.

More sharing, AND greater privacy for your data, is a pretty spectacular combination. And in addition to being more private, this body of data you collect through digi.me- which will shortly include financials and health – creates a body of information that is immensely more powerful than the sum of the parts scattered before this aggregation.

Incoming legislation called the GDPR will also shape this brave new world, creating much more user-centric stringent regulations on the collection of use of personal data, as well as substantial fines for non-compliance.

So privacy online becomes more about choice, with us as the guardians of our own privacy, choosing who else has access and on what terms.

There is no quick overall privacy fix, but one of the aims of digi.me will always be to return ever more privacy to its users and thus be the enablers of an increasingly private world.

Report: YOUR personal data is being sold on a huge scale -often illegally

Sensitive personal data is being traded on a huge scale, often illegally, and for as little as 4p a record a new investigation by Which? has shown.

Undercover reports contacted 14 firms that sell data, posing as a dodgy firm with the intention to contact people about early pension releases – a common pension scam.

Ten of the companies offered personal information for a total of more than half a million people aged 50 and over, including details about salary, pensions, homes and jobs. Some of the information was available for as little as 4p.

Some of the examples included:

  • A company prepared to sell nearly 500,000 pieces of personal information at just 4p each including phone numbers and addresses
  • Another firm listed 2,200 names and numbers of people with a household income of £35,000+ for sale at 66p per item
  • One company sent a sample telephone list on which 13 out of 18 people were registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) – the central opt-out register where people can record their preference not to receive unsolicited marketing calls
  • Another company offering bank details for 5,000 records at 24p per item

The ten that offered information for sale failed to carry out basic checks according to Which? as their company  was not registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) – a must for anyone trading in personal data.

Many companies also appeared to be in breach of the ICO’s guidance on the consent consumers give to have their details shared. For consent to be valid it should be ‘knowingly and freely given, clear and specific’. Some companies were using such vague consent that it was unlikely to pass the ICO’s test.

Digi.me’s founder and Executive Chairman Julian Ranger said: “This type of activity emphasises why we need a new relationship with personal data.  That need not mean businesses cannot access personal data, only that they should do so with consent.

“By returning data to the individual we can arrive at a world where we both share more AND have greater privacy.”

Harry Rose, Which? Money Editor, said: “Our investigation highlights that sensitive personal and financial data is being traded on a huge scale, with some companies apparently willing to sell to anyone who comes calling.”

The ICO has said it will look into the findings, which it called “very concerning”, and will consider enforcement action if companies are found to have broken the law.

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.