Microsoft's Davis on Privacy: Your Digital Life Data is Bankable Currency

Marc Davis, new at Microsoft, spoke at the pii privacy conference about a new web where personally identifiable data of your digital life could become bankable currency in a digital ecosystem.

What if there were eyes watching you and ears hearing you at all times, and devices tracking and mapping your location 24/7? For 5 billion people in the world right now, this is a real and true scenario made possible through mobile phones. Your smart phone has a camera, a microphone, GPS, a web browser, texts, calls, calendars, and contacts which can be traced back to you, a real person who created them at a specific time and at a specific location. In a perfect world, all the personal data created by you, or in any way linked to your personal identity, would belong to you. But we do not live in a perfect world. The recent Privacy Identity and Innovation (pii) conference addressed some of these issues.

One of the pii keynote speakers was Marc Davis. Davis is a new Partner Architect at Microsoft and a backer of rights-based privacy. He works on the vision and technology strategy for Microsoft’s Online Services Division. Davis talked of the Web of the World where "every piece of data on the Internet maps back to who created it and who they know. Where they were when they did it, where they've been and where they plan to go. What they are interested in, attend to, and interact with, and is around them, and when they do these things. The contextualization of the web in the world and the connection of the world to the web, mediated by the connections of people to each other, is forming a new Internet which has vast implications of privacy, identity, and innovation; and how we are going to structure our societies and our economies."

If you've ever had your identity stolen, you then get a fast understanding of just how valuable your personally identifiable data is. Davis suggested that we more or less live in Neo's Matrix right now, where everything is data and metadata connecting people, to more people, to the physical world, and to the objects around us. He said personal data is most the valuable data in the world and is bankable as currency in the digital world. Davis quoted Meglena Kuneva, the European Consumer Commissioner, who said, "Personal data is the new oil of the Internet and the new currency of the digital world."

Davis talked of the problem with privacy, all this data and the web as it is now, "We are in the very early days of becoming a digital society and digital economy." During the pii keynote, he suggested we reinvent a new web which would include the missing infrastructure and ecosystem to make personal data a personal digital asset that could be bankable and tradable from your Personal Data Bank. To understand this, you are supposed to think of banking your data. This data bank is tied to clear, immediate, and concrete benefits to choices about your personal data.

Instead of companies, or the government, being regulated to keep your web searches (behavioral tracking and target ads) for a short time, to retain less information and anonymize more personally identifiable data, this digital society and economy would be based on keeping all your personal data forever, even after your death.

One of the "advantages" of not allowing "consumer privacy to interfere" is that lifetime personal repositories for each individual would evolve into the backbone of a digital society. Your digital life would include the who + what + where + when contextual information about your identity. Your "user-centric personal data" would be aggregated and held "safe" in a Personal Data Bank account. This "bank" of your digital life would hold all locations that you go, all the purchases you ever make, all your relationships, all activity, all your health, governmental, employer, academic and financial records, your web search history, your calendars and appointments, all your phone calls, data, texts, email, all people connected to your social circle, all your personal interests, and all other personal data.

In theory, your motivation in doing this would be that you own your data, but you might exchange it for loyalty points, coupons, perhaps even money, or trade it for vendor services. Your data would be bankable, tradable and convertible as assets.

What companies, corporations and enterprises get out of this new ecosystem is a way to make money by offering digital identity management services to keep this information safe for you in life--even in death, or exchange it for you as stocks are traded, or convert it into assets with merchants, or use it in transactions to "pay" for services. We are talking well beyond targeted ads, online tracking and no anonymity. This new ecosystem would have an infrastructure that collects all personal data from people and their devices (browser, apps, OS). Companies could then offer goods and services to store, backup, sync, and monetize your personal data for you.

Collecting, distributing and monetizing personally identifiable information evokes emotion from me such as when my privacy is "invaded" for behavioral advertising (creepy targeted ads). I want more privacy. Personally, I don't like being tracked where I go on the web, or what I search for, or where I go in real life locations. I'd like to see consumer privacy having more, not less, regulations. I'd like personally identifiable data be anonymized faster, not stored forever.

What do you think of Marc Davis's vision for a new web and digital ecosystem? Do you want to sell or trade your digital life and all your personal information from birth to death?

To see more about what Davis proposed in the Personal Data Bank, watch this video: pii2010 - Keynote by Marc Davis of Microsoft from Marc Licciardi on Vimeo.

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