Data Moves Differently Now

It used to be that anybody could just grab anybody’s personal data, and used it for whatever purpose they wished. Millions and millions at a time. And could get away with it.

That’s why there is a multi-hundred billion dollar data broker industry. Why Google is worth almost a trillion dollars as of today. Why FaceBook has been called, repeatedly and by many, the greatest threat to democracy ever.

But that data grab is about to end. The GDPR regulation was the first shot, unlikely as it may be, by the European public sector, with repercussions world-wide. It is being followed by other regulations in many other places, including us here in California.

But changing consumer sentiment is going to be the larger factor, at least in the longer term. When 58% of people say that privacy on-line is in a crisis, that’s more than most presidents’ approval ratings most of the time. When VCs begin to question the wisdom to invest in startups that don’t have data privacy in their DNA, because customers will not buy surveillance products any more due to the “yuck” factor and how could they ever get a good return on their investment if that’s how customer feel about their investments’ products, you know a trend is in the making.

The advocates of the surveillance status-quo will argue that by making them stop use personal data as they have been, we’ll all be worse off: worse movie recommendations, uninteresting social media feeds, irrelevant ads, and e-commerce sites on which you can’t find anything.

I argue the opposite is true: by giving users the power, the control, the agency, to share (or not) data that they have, we will actually get better movie recommendations, make social media feeds more relevant (and cut out the Russian, or otherwise, bots in the process), make ads much more effective and pleasurable, and match products to customers better rather than worse.

This requires one single but monumental change: the way personal data moves. Not between businesses any more without user involvement, but from the user to the (trusted) business. (Perhaps from some other business, but always by way of the user.) It will make users happier, and give companies earlier on the train a substantial competitive advantage. Privacy will get much better. And maybe even people like me might consider a smart speaker, the cool toy aka surveillance-device incarnate today.

I’m looking forward to 2020. Good things will happen, and I have great plans :-)

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