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A plan for peace in the personal data war

Our founder and chairman Julian Ranger is the subject of an excellent new interview.

Taking a look at the war between those who want to take our personal data and those who want to use it to track and target us with ads, the first paragraph eloquently sums up the situation: “Starting wars is easy. It’s finishing them that’s difficult. What exactly is peace going to look like? How do you repair the damage? Can life really be the same again?”

It’s a fascinating look at a difficult and tricky situation – and Julian explains why some vaunted ‘solutions’ just won’t work and why the digi.me-supported Internet of Me vision and forum based around the same ideas, where the interview appears and which we started and support, is the only way forwards.

Some choice quotes to whet your appetite:

“There’s this strange paradox where people seem to care about privacy but carry on doing things that compromise it,” says Julian. “I think that’s because it’s all too difficult. People turn away and pretend to ignore it ­­– we all do it.”

“At digi.me, when we talk about what the Internet of Me means to us we talk about utility — utility to you the individual getting your data back and then utility to businesses, government and society as a whole when we share it.

“We say that by doing it the way we at digi.me propose it is 100% private and it will enable a more private world. But there is this huge body of people who are not going to come to that way of thinking because they want to fix today’s privacy problems. I want to tell them this: we can’t. We can’t fix all those problems with a load of different point solutions. The model is so broken and busted that you can’t do it.”

I see a true Internet of Me as being where I own and control my data and companies knock on the door to ask for it and I get to control who gets it — that’s all open and transparent. It’s the light side.

Click here to read the interview in full

 

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digi.me and digital memory on the BBC

digi.me and our app has just been featured on the Memory episode of BBC Radio 4’s FutureProofing (if you missed it you can listen again here, Julian is on from 23.46)

The programme started by musing on the question of memories being lost as the keepers of them, and those who shared them, died off, with presenter Timandra Harkness likening memory to a “Bladerunner moment – all these moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain – it  will be lost in time – inevitable but it still seems kind of sad”

The programme then posited the question: Will memory get washed away in the digital deluge, or will we find some mechanisms that stop us forgetting?

In our segment, Julian explained digi.me’s role in gathering memories and data about significant events from our lives, with the purpose of creating greater insight and control as well as the opportunity for each of us to share that on our terms.

And also that the sharing is nuanced – because the data is ours, in our own library, we and we alone can decide what broadly we’re going to share, and then how much and who with.

The benefit to businesses, and more widely innovation? Rich data that is wider in scope, deeper in time and 100 per cent accurate, all fully permissioned.

Leo Johnson, the other presenters, called digi.me ‘seductive’ because of the permissioned access value exchange aspect, although Timandra was more skeptical about a world where everything was potentially shareable.

The whole programme, which covers a raft of distinct but interlocking stories on subjects including neuro-science, what the future holds for memories, and how Holocaust memories are both created and preserved not only to learn the lessons of the past but guide the future, is excellent and well worth a listen.

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EU GDPR: full details of what it means for personal data and your business

Data is the currency of today’s digital economy – and the new GDPR will not only protect this valuable resource for both individuals and companies when it becomes law in 2018 but increase innovation and cut costs as well.

According to estimates, the value of European citizens’ personal data has the potential to grow to nearly €1 trillion annually by 2020 – and business opportunities will only be increased by strengthening and unifying Europe’s already high standard of data protection.

Jan Philipp Albrecht (Greens, DE), who steered the GDPR legislation through Parliament, said: “The regulation will also create clarity for businesses by establishing a single law across the EU. The new law creates confidence, legal certainty and fairer competition.” But what are the key things businesses need to know?

  • One law for the whole continent – one of the biggest attractions is that Europe will now be covered by one law, applied in the same way everywhere, instead of a patchwork of national ones. Eliminating the need to consult local lawyers in each country a business has dealings or premises will see direct cost savings as well as legal certainty. Savings from dealing with one pan-European law rather than 28 are estimated at €2.3bn per year.
  • Regulatory one-stop shop – businesses will only have to deal with one regulatory body rather than 28, making it simpler and cheaper for companies to do business in the EU. They will also profit from faster decisions, one single contact point and less red tape as well as consistency of decisions where the same processing activity takes place in several member states.
  • The same rules for all companies – all companies, whether or not they are based in the EU, will have to adher to the same rules when doing business with its citizens, creating a level playing field that does not exist at the moment where European companies are governed by stricter standards.
  • Technological neutrality – innovation will continue to thrive under the new rules.

There are also new rights aimed primarily at giving individuals more control over their personal data that will additionally benefit business. For example, the new right to data portability, which allows individuals to move their personal data between service providers without losing, for eg contacts and emails, will take away disincentives to switch which often mean building up again from scratch, meaning start-ups and small companies can compete on equal terms in markets previously dominated by industry giants. This will make the European economy more competitive. New privacy-friendly solutions are also likely to fare well in this climate.

SMEs will also benefit from a data protection reform aimed at stimulating economic growth and allowing them to access new markets by cutting costs and red tape for European business. As well as the measures outlined above, such as one law instead of 28, the obligations on data controllers and processors are adjusted based on the size of the business and/or the the nature of the data being processed, so as to avoid creating unnecessary red tape and a disproportionate regulatory burden for smaller firms. So, for example:

  • SMEs need not appoint a data protection officer, unlike larger companies, unless their core activities require regular, systematic and large scale monitoring of data subjects. or they process sensitive areas of personal data such as that revealing racial or ethnic origin or religious beliefs.
  • They also do not need to keep records of any processing activities that are occasional or are unlikely to result in a risk to the rights of the data subject
  • They will also not be obliged to report all data breaches to individuals, unless these represent a “high risk for their rights and freedoms.”

An essential principle of the new system will be that data protection is private both by design and by default, which will incentivise businesses to innovate and “develop new ideas, methods, and technologies for security and protection of personal data.”

The new rules promote techniques such as anonymisation (removing personally identifiable information where it is not needed), pseudonymisation (replacing personally identifiable material with artificial identifiers), and encryption (encoding messages so only those authorised can read it) to protect personal data.

The use of “big data” analytics, such as driverless cars, which can done using anonymised or pseudonymised data, will be actively encouraged under the new regulation, showing it goes hand in hand with innovative and progressive solutions.

Overall, the new data protection rules give businesses opportunities to remove the lack of trust that can affect people’s engagement through innovative uses of personal data.

Giving individuals clear, effective information about what their data is being used for will help build trust in analytics and innovation for the benefit of all.

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Only trust can set data free – but with power comes responsibility

Trust is key to living life online – but the actions of some threaten the peace and security of the rest of us.

In the same week a survey of US web users found that almost half of households had a user who had been deterred from shopping or banking online, or posting on social media, because of the “chilling” effect of privacy concerns, researchers thought it was ok to release the personal data of 70K OKCupid users, including details about sexual desire and drug use.

The researchers claimed that the data was already public, as technically anyone on the site could access it on individual profiles, but they have been criticised for releasing it in bulk without any attempt at anonymisation or, much more pertinently, getting the consent of the users concerned.

The biggest concern today stopping users from sharing more personal data is the lack of control over what happens to it once the initial purpose is complete.

The new GDPR legislation becoming law in 2018 will give a huge boost to personal privacy concerns in this area, only allowing information to be used for the requested action and not re-used or sold on, as well as the right to the withdrawal of consent at a later date.

But the truth is that current unscrupulous methods, from the researchers mentioned above, to ad tracking firms which scrape our data without consent and then follow us around the web, are harming innovation and openness from which we could all benefit, in pretty much every area of our lives.

Open data is a great and wonderful thing – bigger datasets fuel quicker scientific progress, the planning of new services and products to meet genuine needs and, within companies, deeper and better relationships with consumers.

Data that all can see, draw on and use for the greater good can help write wrongs and generally formulate a better world.

Many minds make great work – and the more data they have to do that with, the merrier.

Health, in particular, is ripe for data-centered innovation, which could help predict and prevent illness based on patterns in other patients with similar lifestyles or symptoms, or even speed up cures by providing more data for greater numbers and frequencies of studies and trials.

But there is – understandably – an unwillingness to share this most personal information when scares over cyber attacks and a general feeling of lack of control is rife. Not to mention the fact that companies benefit from the value associated with our data but we, all to often, do not.

So the onus is on those working responsibly with data – such as digi.me, which never sees, touches or holds your personal information – to firstly be clear about this, and secondly work with legislation and like minds to make trust in personal data strong again.

The sharing of data benefits everyone from individual users to companies to scientists – but those of us doing it right lose out while there are still shady practices making the headlines.

And this is why it is imperative to find a new way, returning personal data to the control of the individual and changing the very basis and structure of online advertising so that it doesn’t take our data without our consent.

The data-driven innovations we seek and know are ripe for explosion will still happen – but they’ll happen sooner if a broken system can be re-energised and trust restored.

And so those of us who are the keepers of the trust flame need to shout long and hard until everyone moves to the beat of our drum.

 

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The power of photos to lie as well as enhance

It’s my eighth wedding anniversary today, but my favourite picture of a truly memorable day isn’t a happy one, and not even really from the day itself. Allow me to explain…

Obviously lots of memories of a great day are very much on my mind, aided happily by my digi.me app serving up a plethora of pictures of a beaming couple surrounded by their favourite people.

I love those pictures too, but the one that is now one of my all-time favourite pictures didn’t surface until a couple of years later. It’s a terrible picture, of pretty much everyone in it, and is far from a reflection of the day, (or our overall photos to be fair) – but it is the one I post every year on social media for the comedy value, because it makes others smile as well without fail, and because – most of all – it makes me smile every time I see it.

Do I look miserable? Yes. My about-to-be husband? Yes, him as well – in fact he looks like he’s about to cry. My dad also looks very serious – and if you took this shot in isolation you’d think we were three people very unhappy about what was about to unfold.

In fact, I was nervous as anything and very wobbly, clinging on to my dad and James was, he tells me, overcome with how lovely I looked. We composed ourselves during the first hymn, said our vows happily and without duress, and the rest, as they say, is history.

But looking at it, and posting it, once again, to Facebook, it served as a very powerful reminder of how snapshots of our life can only be that – one frame in time.

To look back with clarity, depth and certainty on events, particularly as they get further away, requires a fullness of knowledge – multiple pictures, comments, snaps from friends – so that a snapshot broadens out into a jigsaw of memories more representative of the day as a whole.

In this way, pictures can enhance but also distort a memory – and only by taking all that is available and gathering it together can we get a true, overall picture.

And that’s what backing up our real life events and memories brings us – rounded memories to enjoy in future years.

So cheers to digi.me for doing just that, and here’s to the power of digital memories – the good, the bad, and the funny!

 

 

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digi.me featured in Der Spiegel and Icelandic press!

Here at digi.me we’re active around the world and at the forefront of innovation in the burgeoning personal data economy, so we’re not unused to press attention.

But we’re delighted to have been featured in an article in Der Spiegel, one of Europe’s biggest and most prestigious weekly news magazines, looking at how data start-ups such as digi.me are changing the value perception of personal data for the benefit of both users and businesses.der-spiegel

Journalist Marcel Rosenbach interviewed our founder and chairman, Julian Ranger, about our company vision of returning the power of data back to the individual for them to exchange with companies as they wish, on their terms.

We’re not alone in reimagining how the internet, and particularly the use of personal data, should look, but we are doing exciting and pioneering work and it’s always good to see that recognised.

We also hit the press in Iceland after Julian (he’s very busy and very much in demand!) spoke at a conference on the future of financial technology there.

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The ability to add full health and financial data to your digi.me library is on track to be added later this year.

We also have a host of very excitings lined up for this year that we can’t quite reveal yet – but you’ll be the first to know when that changes!

Stay tuned!

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Digital legacy: leaving memories of a life lived and loved behind

Death has been on my mind a lot recently – and not always in a bad way.

My husband’s much-loved grandmother (above, meeting our first son, her great-grandson, in 2011) would have been 100 last week, but sadly died eight weeks short of her century after old age finally caught up with the strongest of hearts.

An amazing woman, she was born weighing just 1lb and her own mother died in childbirth. Raised by her father, she went into service in her late teens and raised her own children in the stresses and horrors of World War 2.

Fragile and gradually failing healthwise for the 11 years that I had known her, she was nonetheless the beating heart of her immediate family, drawing everyone around her and always up to date on local comings and goings despite rarely leaving the house.

Her two sons and grandchildren have spent much of the time since her death clearing out her house – and unearthing long forgotten photos and their associated memories as they do so, of events long forgotten and sometimes not even known.

One thing that struck me was that Olive’s way of securing memories -albums of photos, clippings from the local newspaper – is very much coming to an end.

Now, memories are stored digitally – pictures on our phones, whole lives on the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Our collective digital memories remember so much more – too much, maybe, minutiae mixed up with life-defining events – and yet there can be comfort in the unravelling of that life, which this piece on a ‘secret life’ discovered on a laptop belonging to the writer’s recently-deceased mother explains beautifully:

“But walking in mom’s online footsteps was also like crossing a field riddled with land mines. Without warning, something would trigger my grief and my heart was ripped open again. The most painful were those that came just before the cancer battle speeches, before she knew she was sick. There, plain as day, were her plans and hopes for a future she thought stretched out before her.”

Of the major social networks, only Facebook allows the ability to ‘memorisalise’ a dead person’s profile, preserving what is there and allowing existing friends and family contacts to post to the page.

A friend of a friend, who I knew slightly but not well, died reasonably unexpectedly two years ago. Friends often post to her page when they think of her, or do something she would have enjoyed – and her family often comment how much it means to them that she lives on in the memories of others and has not been forgotten.

So creating digital memories is not just something we do to share our highs and lows with those around us in the here and now, it’s increasingly our legacy too, for those who will one day rely on this instead of our physical presence.

Truly, storing these memories can also have a benefit in the present too – our brains are so over stimulated that we forget most of the things that happen to us immediately, so saving important memories somewhere allows us to return and relive the ones that stand out and matter most.

But our digital legacy, ultimately, is what we leave to pass on to those we spent our happiest times with – and digital apps such as digi.me offer an easier and more obvious way to do that.

While it is often argued, with a great deal of truth, that social media is very much a constructed self, the side we want to show the world, a private journal, again like digi.me, where you can add your own, non-shared entries and pictures, stands as a true reflection of the person you are and the times you lived in.

Your digital legacy is not replacing memories of the here and now, but one day it will replace the physical you – and in all likelihood offer comfort to those you leave behind.

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What does a Trump vs Clinton fight for the US presidency mean for privacy?

The next US president looks set to be either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton – so what will be the implications for personal data privacy and surveillance whoever wins? Let’s have a look at their track records…

Donald Trump has strong and (from a UK viewpoint) often bizarre viewpoints on many things. There’s not much The Donald hasn’t opined on, and privacy and security are no different. And, as ever, he’s got an unusual take on things.

Back in September, for example, he said he was open to ‘closing parts of the internet down‘ to win the fight again Isis, which shows broad ambition and lateral thinking skills if not a huge amount of technical nous. The whole quote in full: “I would certainly be open to closing areas where we are at war with somebody. I sure as hell don’t want to let people that want to kill us and kill our nation use our internet.”

Following the attacks in Paris, he said that privacy rights in America were a lot stronger before: “Those privacy rights were a lot stronger three days ago than they are now,” he said. “I think a lot of people would be willing to give up some privacy in order to have more safety.”, while also alluding to his belief that surveillance had not stopped the attacks.

He also strongly criticised Apple for opposing the FBI’s ‘backdoor’ order, asking: “Who do they think they are? They have to open it up.

He added: “I agree 100 percent with the courts. In that case, we should open it up.” […] “I think security, overall, we have to open it up and we have to use our heads. We have to use common sense. Somebody the other day called me a common-sense conservative. We have to use common sense.”

He then – such a surprise! – went further, urging a boycott of Apple if they didn’t help the FBI. As Trump is apparently an iPhone user, it was unclear whether he planned to boycott himself – but thankfully (or not, depending on how you look at it), the FBI found another way in without the whole court battle/boycott having to play out.

But, we should also note at this point, he did say if elected he would close loopholes in federal law that allow student data mining.

Moving on to surveillance, Trump has declared himself “fine” with re-authorising the Patriot Act, coming out in favour of security over privacy and further admitting:”I assume when I pick up my telephone people are listening to my conversations anyway, if you want to know the truth.”

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is what we might term a more seasoned political operator, and for that reason her stances have been a little more, erm, cautious.

But she has strong opinions on Edward Snowden, stating during a democratic debate: “He broke the laws of the United States.

“He stole very important information that has unfortunately fallen into a lot of the wrong hands. So I don’t think he should be brought home without facing the music.”

Staying with Snowden, she has also said: “He could have been a whistleblower. He could have gotten all of the protections of being a whistleblower. He could have raised all the issues that he has raised. And I think there would have been a positive response to that.” (athough subsequent press reports suggested he may not have been eligible for whistleblower protection)

On the NSA, which is synomymous with the Snowden revelations, particularly over the mass surveillance of civilians, she has been vaguer on her pronouncements, leading to the Atlantic to call her evasive, in an article in which they quoted her as saying: “Well, I think the NSA needs to be more transparent about what it is doing, sharing with the American people, which it wasn’t. And I think a lot of the reaction about the NSA, people felt betrayed. They felt, wait, you didn’t tell us you were doing this. And all of a sudden now, we’re reading about it on the front page…”

She was clear they had to act “lawfully”, but equally a lot of wiggle room was left there for her eventual position if she becomes the first US female president.

Speaking specifically about balancing the rights of privacy in reference to powers given to government agencies post 9/11, she said: “There’s no doubt we may have gone too far in a number of areas, and those [practices] have to be rethought and rebalanced”….adding:”I think it’s fair to say the Government, the NSA, didn’t so far as we know cross legal lines, but they came right up and sat on them.

“It could perhaps mean their data was being collected in metadata configurations, and that was somehow threatening. We have to be constantly asking ourselves what legal authorities we gave to the NSA and others and make sure people know what the tradeoffs are.”

On the FBI/Apple battle, for the record, she trod a careful middle line, saying: “I see both sides, and I think most citizens see both sides…We don’t want privacy and encryption destroyed, and we want to catch and make sure there’s nobody else out there whose information is on the cell phone of that killer.”

Of course, no look at Clinton and privacy is complete without a look at the curious affair of her use of her own private email server, which was used during her time as Secretary of State, in breach of normal protocol. Both she and the State Department have now released thousands of these emails in an effort to show (ironically) no breaches of security were made. A good look at the whole affair here.

So, essentially,  the ultimate future impact on privacy and surveillance is a difficult one to call at this stage, not least because we’re a long way off from the November contest and uber serious polling has yet to commence.

But we’re certainly in for interesting times, whoever wins. God Bless America!

 

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Why privacy is a right… not a luxury

Privacy should be a right we can all take for granted – but the problem is it is being taken away from us without our consent.

Will new trading models that put data back in the hands of the individual, who can then share or exchange it at will, make privacy the preserve of only those who have sufficient income to make a choice over this, rather than those whose circumstances compel them to to take advantage of what’s on offer, whether or not that’s what they would choose?

That’s the premise in this otherwise sensible article on the growth of the sharing economy, which ponders:  “But paying consumers to give up their privacy may not be particularly freeing for lower-income tech users. The practice essentially puts a premium on privacy: If you want to keep your data, and stay anonymous, you have to give up cash and deals. If this model plays out, a private smart home will be more expensive than one that reports back on its users.”

The article, which also mentions an AT&T deal in the US, where not having your search and browsing history recorded costs more each month, makes some good points, and that is one interpretation of the facts.

But the bald and biggest fact being overlooked here is that nothing is free in this world – users of so-called ‘free’ newspaper or gaming sites just don’t realise they are paying for them with their data!

Ultimately, privacy is a right that we should all automatically have and which nobody should have to pay for.

But yet while we make choices all the time in every area of our lives, at the moment we don’t have a choice about what happens to our data – information about us – that is taken from us multiple times a day without permission and then used as a crude (and often irritating) targeting tool.

Sometimes we do actively sign this right of ours away, but through ‘I agree’ buttons and long-winded privacy policies designed to confuse and bore us and which companies know the vast majority of us will just quickly scan, at most, to get to the service they offer.

Putting the individual back in control, at their centre of their connected world in what we are calling the Internet of Me, will automatically enable a more private world.

Getting a discount or deal simply for sharing that data, on your terms, with who you choose, will be a benefit that will appeal to all, and simply another life choice to make.

So, actually, if privacy could be seen as a luxury, it’s a luxury around actually having a choice, as opposed to being forced to give up data as we all are at the moment, whether we know it or not. Or even like it or not.

But the bottom line is that privacy is a right for all – and here at digi.me we’re doing everything we can to enable a world in which that’s known and accepted universally.

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Why the Daily Mail is completely wrong on personalised data

The tone of the headline sets the scene for the rest of the determinedly single focus article – evil holiday firms are “tracking your computer, scouring your old bookings..and even checking the births marriages and deaths!”

And for what purpose is this “spying” being done? So they can hike the price of your holiday, apparently, through personalised pricing based on knowing when, where and how you like to travel.

Now, businesses exist to make money, and will leverage opportunities they see – it’s naive to think otherwise. But holiday prices in this country are already hiked hugely during school and public holidays, for example, because data shows that more people travel then and supply and demands means they are forced to accept higher prices. So for the Mail to froth at the mouth about this seems a little horse and stable door.

In fact what the story is actually about is travel firms attempting to find out more about travellers through existing data to build a picture of what they might do in the future. So identifying who’s a last-minute panic holiday shopper, for eg, or who frequently books flights at rush hour times between major cities.

And, yes, the ultimate purpose behind these is likely to be personalised offers and advertising – not necessarily based on pricing. In fact, many of the firms in the article say that’s not the case (although they would, wouldn’t they?) – but it is certainly the reality that with multiple airlines or holiday companies offering similar products, over-priced holidays or flights are likely to be turned down, and potential customers lost.

The Mail, though, sees this as another example of Big Brother in our lives, and it comes hot on the heels of an article a few weeks ago that was similarly dismissive and scare-mongering about banks building up pyschological profiles of customers to offer targeted services.

But is it really so bad? I would argue not. The problem is less with the gathering of the data – personalised service, after all, is the Holy Grail of most businesses across all industries, because the more they know about us the more likely we are to buy.

No, personalisation can be good – when done well, when done with consent.

And this is the real problem, the one that the Mail doesn’t touch on at all because it’s too busy being outraged by the end product and not the process.

As Ctrl-Shift summarised in an excellent blog about the banking article: “The sad fact is that today’s standard model of customer data collection and use is almost perfectly designed to trigger these creepy feelings.

“This model is based on organisations collecting data about you, going through some process which you don’t understand behind your back, to do things to you. It can’t help but create a sense among customers that they are being watched and intruded upon, where they can’t trust the other party’s motives.”

As well as the underhand and non-permissioned way of collecting data like this, the end product is far from satisfactory – thin, not detailed and often 30-50 per cent incorrect.

So, really, it’s not working at all for users – who dislike the creepy, sneaky nature of web tracking, so are using ad blocking technology in their hundreds of millions – nor businesses, which need accurate data to fully understand and thus serve their customers.

The current data exchange model is broken, but a new one is emerging – a trust-based sharing economy with users in control of their own personal data and able to share it on their terms, for their benefit, only with those companies they want to deal with.

A tipping point will come, and soon, where this is the only future for personal data. And digi.me will be at the forefront with our Permissioned Access model, which will let users do just that, initially with their health and financial information.

But until then, the Mail is wrong. Personalised data is not the problem – it has the ability to enrich, deepen  and simplify each of our lives and experiences. The problem is how that data is acquired – but the storms of change are brewing, and we should all be ready to embrace them when they come.