“We should take the pains to remember something.
There are some of us,
Who do not accept the dreams of dragons as their own,
No matter how grand those dragons might say they are”
-Llorca, The Novel Sound
When I was about six years old we had a car accident. The family car was a green E.H. Holden, four doors with bench seats. At the time of the accident my mother was driving and my sister and I were in the back. The car was stopped at a railway crossing and then clipped from behind, sending us into a 360-degree spin. Time slowed down so much it felt like we were spinning forever. Then amidst the screeching and broken glass the car came to a thumping halt in front of a pub.
People raced out onto the street, including the publican and his wife. They helped my sister and I out of the car and comforted us with lemonade (prohibited in our household outside of Christmas). Fortunately we were not badly injured, just some cuts and bruises. As I sat there on the sidewalk, lemonade in hand I concluded it was the most thrilling and exciting experience of my life. From then on, I drove my parents crazy, asking every time we got into the car if we could do it again?
We weren’t wearing seat-belts.
They weren’t required.
Fast-forward a couple of years to 1971 and wearing seat-belts became mandatory.
It’s simple – it saves lives.
It serves the greater good.
Growing up both my parents worked, so after school care was a necessity. My mother and father juggled shift work to make sure one of them was home mornings to get us ready for school. After school meant ‘adult’ supervision. So every day mum made a mad 20-minute dash from work, picked us up and dropped us with a minder near the hospital where she worked. We were ‘supposed’ to do our homework. Once a week pocket-money meant being allowed to go to the local shop and buy ice cream. It wasn’t unusual for our babysitter to ask us to bring back a packet of cigarettes.
One day it came out that I was often sent to buy cigarettes for our minder and my mother went ballistic. She immediately changed our after school care. But hey…it was 1970s Australia; tobacco companies sponsored every sporting event. Billboards showcased images of an exotic life just one cigarette away. TV ads promoted the glamour along with our comic hero Paul Hogan reminding us that anyhow…have a (insert brand).
As the links between health and smoking emerged, legislation was introduced. Over the following decades the moves to phase out direct advertising, prohibit sports sponsorship, change packaging and require ID for purchase were introduced.
It made sense – it prolonged lives.
It serves the greater good.
Things change. Attitudes shift. Laws come into play. Science provides evidence. Economics influence new models. Society norms change. People gain a voice.
Things that were commonplace when I was a child are totally inappropriate to us now.
As our lives become increasingly digital we are faced with new challenges around our economic models, methods of service delivery and how the exchange of value works.
Of late, I have been asked a lot why I started Meeco. What’s the why?
Part of the why is outlined in the manifesto I wrote in 2012, which essentially comes down to this:
Up until now the power to capture, analyse and profit from personal data has resided with business, government and social networks. What if you and I had the same power?
Back in 2011, I started researching in earnest the value of data. Did anyone really own it? Was it about ownership or control? What could it enable and whom could it benefit? Reports published by the World Economic Forum painted a picture of an emerging data and identity economy.
Organisations were able to insure data and include it as assets to increase the value of balance sheets, stock prices and market position. If companies could do this it made sense that it would be only a matter of time before the same would be true for you and I.
My thinking went along these lines:
- Data is an asset and assets generate value
- Who ever controls the asset derives the value
- Markets are built on trading and exchanging value to the advantage of the controller
- Individuals generate data (assets) but don’t have mechanisms to participate in the value chain, therefore control of the asset would need to shift to the individual in order for that value to be realised
- Mechanisms for individuals to achieve this would be required to enable individuals to be part of the value chain
- Being part of the value chain creates parity and parity leads to flatter structures and cost reduction
- Cost reduction creates new forms of value available for distribution between the participants
- New forms of distribution enable new business models which drive innovation
- Innovation supports the evolution of society and often means the things of the past are no longer acceptable.
We saw this with seat-belts.
We saw this with cigarettes.
I believe we will see this with personal data.
Winners Take Most
This blog has been bubbling in my head over the last few months, especially when I keep hearing people argue for the status quo.
Was there the same debate in the early sixties about the need for seat-belts? What impact did that have on car manufacturers? Once the safety evidence was in place everything aligned to make these protections mandatory.
What about the Mad Men days of the tobacco industry? Did anyone imagine a time in the not too distant future when every open door like; advertising, sponsorship, lobbying, packaging, distribution and public codes would reverse?
Right now I hear the same thing from (incumbents) about the collection and trading of personal data. The practice of corporate surveillance and purchasing social data to combine with confidential customer data is widely accepted. These practices together with data breaches, hacks, identity fraud, spam advertising and badly targeted offers are starting to wear thin on the people they impact = you & I.
More importantly, these are going to be significant challenges for digital natives. Their entire life will be captured in some digital form. If we don’t engineer the means for them to generate value then we are essentially going backwards into a form of digital feudalism.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. I see a clear path forward to a new marketplace, one that is based on transparency, opt-in and trust. I believe that the hallmark of a future proof organisation will be the willingness to share the data it collects about its customers directly with its customers for mutual value.
The good news is that all the research indicates that transparency actually leads to people sharing more data rather than less, providing they understand why it is being collected and how it is used.
The personal data market fuels a billion dollar industry. Year on year we are seeing an increase in the number of people installing ad-blockers. Surveillance advertising based on browser tracking and Google searches is increasing in cost with diminishing returns. The ad tech industry is under fire and needs to rethink engagement, permission and experience.
Apple coming out and pointing the finger at Google and Facebook about their data collection practices reinforces that there is a lot to lose (billions) if these practices are forced to change. When Apple, as the the most valuable company in the world says that privacy is a fundamental human right then maybe we are getting close to the tipping point of understanding; that individuals are sitting on a valuable asset?
I believe these assets should be ours to permission and control. The time has come for the same safeguards and protections to be in place to give individuals agency over the personal information they generate and the context in which it is used.
I fell asleep last night with all this on my mind. It’s been a week of hearing people defend the status quo. I woke this morning and reached for my phone. The first thing I read was this blog from Fred Wilson. This isn’t the first time Fred’s commentary has helped clarify the rocky road of change. I’d encourage you to read the entire blog….but here are the things that leapt out.
“The history of the Internet and mobile is that in many categories the winner takes most of the market:
- Search – Google
- e-commerce – Amazon
- Social – Facebook
- Ridesharing – Uber
We can go on and on with making a list like that and I have left off many many markets, but I think this short list I made at least gets the point across.
The reasons are many, but at the core are network effects and the fact that the more users and data a service has, the more value it can create for its customers and users.
Lately, we’ve been wondering if there is an end to this pattern on the Internet and mobile. We think it is possible that an open data platform, in which users ultimately control their data and the networks they choose to participate in, could be the thing that undoes this pattern of winner takes most”
Fred goes on to call out blockchain technology, which we equally find encouraging. The means by which distributed and peer-2-peer transactions can be achieved. Whilst still not mainstream the applications in development around the globe indicate that it is not too far off.
We have some proof-of-concepts underway at Meeco using blockchain technologies for attribute verification, KYC and employee on-boarding. Early days, but the potential benefits for data reuse, discovery and provenance are significant.
Every day we talk with our Meeco members, enterprise, governments and institutions about the opportunities of including customers, citizens, students and patients in the value exchange.
There is little downside and major upside
As we look to the future we see two distinct business models at play:
- Companies that make their customers into products – winner takes most
- Companies that make products to help their customers – distributed wins
Where to start?
Customer centric design, collaboration platforms, asking questions and collapsing silos are great places. Companies like Trendwolves and Better are doing great work in these areas.
But what comes after the insights and analysis – what shifts the balance of power and brings ‘us’ into peer-2-peer relationships? What will it take to break down the hierarchy and controls of our current models?
It starts with imagining a different future and engineering for it; designing systems that enable customers, patients, students and citizens to exchange information and insight directly, and on their terms.
It starts with building tools for individuals to organise, manage and exchange information in context and as peers. Tools that people can incorporate into their every day lives, without the friction of T&Cs they don’t understand or have time to read. Tools that enable real-time communication with the people and organisations they trust.
It starts with accepting that the past is going to be challenged and old ways will give rise to the new, just as it was for the car manufacturing and tobacco industries.
Ways we once thought commonplace will be replaced by new models where ‘we’ are directly part of the value created and distributed.
Jump The Curve
My day started with Fred Wilson and finished with Guy Kawasaki talking about the art of innovation. Guy was Apple Computer’s Macintosh software evangelist from 1983 to 1987. In the article Kawasaki provided a list of what innovators need to do. Amongst the points these jumped out:
- Make meaning: “If you start out with the sole purpose of making money, you frequently fail.”
- Jump to the next curve: Like the refrigerator compared with the ice delivery truck, Kawasaki said “great innovation is finding the next curve, not (fighting) it out in the current version.” Companies who define themselves as what they do will fail, but companies who define themselves according to the benefits they provide consumers can succeed. “Ask yourself what is the next curve is in our business – what do your customers truly get from you and deliver that no matter what the mechanism.”
- Polarize people; Great innovation has the outcome of polarizing people; “If you are not on the radar, not a topic of discussion, that’s the worst.”
- “Don’t let the bozos grind you down & Don’t let uninformed critics discourage you.”
Every time someone tells me it’s not possible I think seat-belts and cigarettes.
It’s not so hard to imagine a generation emerging that demands greater equity, increased personal security, laws designed to protect them and the means to participate directly in the value they create.
It’s simple – it makes sense.
It serves the greater good.
It jumps the curve.
I love getting the time to write. My process is fuelled by what I read, the images around me and the music playing in the background . Usually there’s at least one track I play over and over when writing. For this post it’s The Novel Sound by Llorca. I first heard it on a Buddha Bar album. Whilst I really like the track, it’s the lyrics that have always grabbed me. I love the idea that we don’t have to accept the dreams of great dragons but are free to dream our own. Enjoy 🙂
What a beautiful, clear, and compelling call for us to evolve the Internet Economt to a positive, P2P-sharing, equitable institution. Today our ID (identity via our shared personal data) is other people’s IP (Intellectual Property). We can’t say we’re “sharing” data any longer but “sacrificing” it unless we can make your transparent vision a reality.
Kudos to you, Katryna, for building Meeco and fighting the good fight to help people realize how precious they and their personal data are. And again, excellent piece.
Thanks John, really appreciate the feedback. This shift is important for us, but vital for the next generation. If data is going to have the same value as currency, or enable access in the way currency does, then I feel we have an obligation to them to ensure they are part of the value exchange. I’ll be content if Meeco contributes to that being a reality. KD 🙂
Hello Katryna, Love the piece and the way it flowed.
The seat-belt and cigarette examples are indeed very relevant. I remember reading a Chris Dixon blog post on how some things seem to change gradually and at a slow pace until they suddenly start growing exponentially.
There is a definite cycle to the way things ebb and flow in life. The intermediaries and middle-men have had their time. The power and the benefits will eventually start to flow back to the people who are at the very source of all the data. It is a question of when and what will accelerate the movement.
P2P technologies like block chain will play a central role in this transformation.
Hey AJ, thanks for your lovely feedback. I agree that the move towards distributed, self-sovereign identities using technology like blockchain will help with the transformation. It is definitely time that the power and benefits start to flow back to the people who are the very source of the data. KD
Last sunday i woke up and went to write this almost without drinking coffee: http://laoutaris.info/index.php/2016/09/11/oh-but-people-dont-care-about-privacy/
Jogi pointed me to your lovely post when he read.
How come people don’t see these analogies?
Nothing is written in stone here