Our Personal Data
St. John Deakins defines personal data as anything about you that’s digitally held. It could be your health records, passport information, date of birth information, and everything that you do day-to-day. He says, “We all have smartphones with probably around 20-30 apps, and all of that data creates a huge cloud, which is constantly being updated about you.” He mentions that these digital versions of who we are makes everything about us become digitized. “In the last week, for instance,” he says, “it turns out that Google has been providing physicians with free services, but actually pulling in huge amounts of health data. The big issue we have at the moment is that we’re not able to view it. We can’t see where it is. There’s very limited transparency. That leads to people being creeped out about things that happen, because they can’t understand it.”
Every industry basically runs directly or indirectly on personal data, St. John tells us. The scary thing is that there are a few Big Data monopolies, and the more data they can collect around an individual, the more they can provide algorithms, which then provide insights and drive services for them. “Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon have huge amounts of personal data to try and drive those services, and that gets kind of scary,” St. John says. “All of your personal data sits in someone else’s cloud, and all of the algorithms in the AI is owned by someone else. Even in a liberal democracy, we have two or three companies that basically gonna run the world.” St. John mentions that other countries aren’t even that lucky. You get disinformation, democracies are broken, and minorities are being oppressed because of these Big Tech companies. “You can already see it happening. Technology is incredibly powerful,” St. John says.
St. John is the CEO and Founder of CitizenMe, a company and platform giving people access to the value of their data. When we ask St. John what made him decide to launch the platform, he tells us that he wanted to do something that would make an impact on his kids. He says, “They’re growing up in a century when everything is becoming digital. If you’re a ten year old child now, you are used to having devices. You can’t imagine a time where people didn’t have smartphones. You have a world that is driven by personal data, and none of us have control.” The solution St. John saw was giving everyone the ability to participate, which is what CitizenMe is about. “If we can do that, then we can nudge the internet slightly towards the good. Five to ten years down the track we’ll be in a much better place than where we are now”, he says.
So, how does CitizenMe work? St. John explains that it enables people to put in a copy of their data from around the Internet. When you put it together, it creates a story about you. He says, “When you apply algorithms to your data, you can basically repeal things about yourself. For the psychometric stuff, we very simply applied some algorithms where you can look at background information. Of your tweets, your social media interactions, likes on Facebook, and so on. It could even be things like your app usage information, which is available on your phone. You apply algorithms for that, and it can give you insights about how extrovert you are, your mood state, your life satisfaction levels, and so on. This type of data can be taken from, for example, your step count information, or your Spotify playlists.” It’s all about creating the ability to provide stories about you, he says. You get them first, before anyone else, and then you can decide what to do with it. He gives us an example: you might think that you’re pretty eco-centric; you do your recycling once a week, and you make sure you recycle bottles. But, if you look at your household energy consumption based on your smart meter data usage, you use the tumble dryer five or six times a week. So, your carbon footprints aren’t that great in reality, but you self perceive as being someone who cares about the environment. In terms of who you think you are, and how you like to see yourself, the reality might be slightly different. St. John means that having that kind of level of nuance and depth of understanding is really powerful.
How can you make money out of giving your data to CitizenMe? St. John tells us that every time you do an activity on the platform, like asking what your personality is like on Twitter, you’re pulling in your Twitter profile, and you populate a datastore. Every time you populate the datastore, you’re getting more and more value. Once you have that kind of data, you can either donate it anonymously to a charity or to health research, or you can transact it for cash. “So, as well as getting a self-revelation, you can also choose to gain value,” St. John states.
CitizenMe is not only accessible for the individual. Companies can opt in and benefit from the platform as well. St. John explains, “If a large movie studio is about to launch a streaming service, they can use CitizenMe to see what other streaming services people have on their phone. They can, for instance, find out that people have Disney+, Netflix and maybe two or three other streaming services on their phones. That way they can deeply understand their target market. They understand the people that they want to reach out to, and how they should talk to them through psychometrics and emotional info.”
St. John tells us that CitizenMe lets everything be anonymous by default. “It’s the insight that people need, and the insight can come from anonymized data,” he states. “The first rule is privacy by design. If you then open up for us, you go into a private community, where the brand is visible to you. Any data that is shared, is for the sole use of that specific company, so it can’t be sold to any third party.”
The Value of Our Data
St. John says that when we think about value of data, we tend to think about Facebook. “In the United States, the average person is paying about 130 dollars a year to use Facebook, in terms of their data. You are paying for Facebook, in data. It’s not visible to you, and they don’t want it to be visible to you,” he says. What he means is that there are already transactions happening, but we don’t see them. The companies that are making the money don’t want us to see them either, because they want to keep the money from the data to themselves. “If we participate, we can be benefiting monetarily, and we can get access to the algorithms that tell us about ourselves. We can find out things about ourselves, which enable us to be what we might think of as ‘better people’. That’s incredibly valuable. In terms of how we interact with communities, how we self manage, how we make more time for the things we love doing… All of those things can be kind of accentuated and helped, with access to personal data,” St. John says. “Getting involved in services that are pushing the new frontier is important. Even in a world where we’re all digitally connected, it has got to be about human flourishing and empowerment of individuals. Stay involved, and you’ll make change happen. There’s hope for the future.”
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