It is an undeniable fact that data has changed the world that we live in. From social media changing the way businesses and people communicate to the enabling of new and more efficient business models for companies, data has become one of the most important assets globally for all markets.
With this data revolution, working groups have joined efforts over the years to release data regulation laws and frameworks such as GDPR, where transparency, privacy and governance are three of the main principles of ethical data collection for companies. The primary focus up until now has been how companies will achieve compliance and will remain lawful when it comes to data collection.
Regulatory discussions have always revolved around companies gathering data in a regulation compliant fashion. However, companies manage to use compliant data for unethical business practices such as influencing presidential elections (Cambridge Analytica). Since scandals like this appear to be more frequent, it prompts the question; why do we keep concentrating on what companies do with personal data instead of shifting the spotlight towards people owning their own data. Put simply, data is generated by humans, and therefore, data inherently belongs to them. Laws like GDPR anonymise citizens' data, but still allow companies to collect data from them. Data should also generate value for the person generating it, not only for the companies that benefit from these data. In the past decade, people have been blindly accepting terms and conditions, cookies and other data capturing tools without the knowledge of to what extent data is being taken from them.
With this in mind, an important question arises; is there a way to get our data ownership back? Can we actively manage how we share our data and choose with whom we share our data? The answer is yes. Not only is it possible, but it should be done. The two main ways this can be achieved are by democratising data ownership and decentralising data sharing.
Democratised data ownership and monetisation
Data democratisation is the ability for information in a digital format to be accessible to the average end user. According to TechTarget, the goal of data democratisation is to allow non-specialists to be able to gather and analyse data without requiring outside help. When applied to personal data, data democracy refers to how users gather and control their personal data, ultimately enabling them to own their data and information.
Data ownership is an idea that should be always kept in mind. Platforms such as digi.me allow their users to privately own and control all their personal data gathered from different sources (i.e. social media, health or finance) and bring this data back to their personal cloud storage, thus enabling them to see and control their data and allowing them to choose who they are going to share their data with and when. Signing up for services like digi.me is a good start to gaining back our data ownership and control and doing so in a self-sovereign fashion.
Now that we have gained control over our data, why not earn money over it? Data is a very valuable asset and can therefore be traded. Trading data for money is a way of data monetisation. Companies such as UBDI (Universal Basic Data Income) have made this a reality. UBDI “helps people make money by sharing anonymous insights from their data that companies need for market research”. When there is an opportunity for UBDI users to get paid, this will be done through Hyperwallet and through Uphold in the future, hence also accepting crypto payments.
And UBDI isn’t the only way data can be monetised. Coil is a web monetisation platform powered by blockchain and the Interledger Protocol where content creators, website owners and even internet browsers are sent micropayments for every second that a subscriber enjoys their content. Coil could potentially debunk content consumption platforms where users’ monthly fees go mostly to the platform and very little amount of money reaches the content creators who upload their content in said platform. Instead, Coil supports a more democratic model with peer-to-peer micropayments that allow content creators to directly earn money for the content they are creating, without the need of advertisements or a central authority that distributes the money to them. Although Coil uses Interledger protocol, which is currency and ledger agnostic; Coil members can send and receive payments in several currencies. The only condition to receive a payment is that the user’s wallet provider supports Interledger. GateHub and Uphold both support several currencies, albeit GateHub defaults to XRP.
Decentralised data sharing via Distributed Ledgers
Once you have control over your own data, more questions can arise. For example, if you do want to monetise or share your data, how does one share selected data with the third parties that are interested in it? This is where the concept of data sharing comes in. Of course, data sharing refers to the process of giving someone data they are requesting. Nevertheless, decentralised data sharing occurs when the data is stored in a decentralised location and will only be shared in a peer-to-peer fashion, where only the user consenting to share data and the user interested in the data can manage and handle the information, without the need of a centralised entity or server (where all the data of different users might be stored) to perform this transaction.
If you were to use UBDI to monetise your data, it would be done through digi.me, as these two companies have partnered up to enable data sharing. At the moment, data managed by digi.me and UBDI customers is stored in a cloud storage service of the users' preference. In order for the user to share their personal data with a third party, a Consent Access Service is activated from the digi.me app and a multi-step process is conducted, where users' personal encrypted data actually flows through digi.me cloud service and only the third party can access and decrypt this data.
This process raises some key alarms; as you may have inferred. Data ownership could be compromised because there is a moment in the data sharing process where personal data is fetched from the user's cloud storage into the digi.me service, and then delivered to the third party who requested the data in the first place. In other words, data must flow through a central entity to be delivered to the final beneficiary. This process is an example of centralised data sharing. Although the digi.me service is very secure, there is still a middleman in the data sharing mechanism, which though slight, still poses a risk for data leakage or tampering. The more middlemen that are involved in the data sharing process, the higher the risk the data can be modified and manipulated.
The ideal way in which users could have complete ownership and control over their data at all times during the data sharing process is if it were decentralised. A peer-to-peer connection would allow direct information exchange between the connected peers. If this were to be implemented, the user and third-party requesting data from the user could establish a connection without the need of a centralised cloud service in the middle, and the user could share selected data directly with the third party.
Decentralised data sharing could be enabled by leveraging blockchain and DLT technologies, that allow for the storage of data in a decentralised and secure way where no central regulator is required (a cloud service in this example). The user would consent for the data to be shared and the third-party will retrieve the relevant data through a trusted transaction between peers.
In fact, there is another platform that allows to do exactly this: the Instars social media platform. This is one of the few decentralised social media networks, which are not controlled by a centralised big tech entity. Users will have full control of their personal data and will be able to monetise it. The platform allows for consensual data exchange in a decentralised fashion, as well as free peer to peer micropayments. Users in the platform can make money from the data and insights they share, and actions taken inside the social network involve an INSTAR token exchange. The Instars platform leverages the public INSTAR blockchain and smart contracts for decentralised data sharing between individuals and organisations in a transparent and fair way, though it is still in its beta stage.
In spite of the idea of democratic data ownership and monetisation sounding idealistic, there is still some way to go and evolution to be made to shift from the web 2.0, or the internet as we know it, to the web 3.0, where data isn’t just a stream of bits traveling through servers and routers, but it is rather a valuable asset that can be traded. This change of paradigm is being boosted by the use of cutting-edge technologies like blockchain and DLT, and will allow and empower users and citizens to own and control data they produce, enabling democratic data monetisation and decentralised data sharing.