Taking control of our own data, to get and offer what we wish

I love the way that open explorations – like our current one into how digital technologies can support young people to engage socially and economically with their communities – throw up new connections, and re-awaken old ones. So I was delighted to see Alex Stobart contributing ideas to our crowdsourcing document. I’ve know Alex for some years through his work in Scotland in public services, and the community, in social tech. I asked Alex to expand on his comment under “Make it easier for people to use their personal data to obtain services”. Alex sent me a copy of an article he wrote recently for Holyrood magazine with this reminder that there’s no free lunches, even on the Internet.

People’s personal data and activities support the valuation of Facebook, Google and Autonomy. Data underpins the internet; it could be called its currency. But the people do not receive full value in return. As with so many intangibles, we do not fully understand our data’s value and in particular how that value is realised by organisations without our involvement.

Until recently we have been content to use a browser, handing out our data and patterns of behaviour for others to capture, store and analyse to build a picture of us without any benefits being delivered back to us as individuals. Each step along the way leaves a digital footprint, or more likely, a fingerprint or clue trail. That data is worth trillions of pounds to organisations accessing and analysing it.

Very few people question why we receive a free service from the likes of Facebook or Google, companies that carry valuations of $100bn or more. In short, these companies analyse and sell the data fingerprints we leave on the internet to other organisations either in the form of behavioural analytics or as part of targeted advertising. Similarly, governments have some of the most valuable potential data sets in the world. Education and health research and a host of other quantitative and behavioural studies enable research to be carried out, and predictions made.

These views of the world are organisation-centric. They consider that if organisations accumulate data and information, then they will be able to share that to deliver better services. In some ways this is true. A business model such as Amazon is premised on understanding an individual’s behaviours and habits and providing them with more.

Alex goes on to explain in the article, and below, that for a more useful life online we need to take control of your own stuff, to get what we need, and offer what we wish, rather than just allowing organisations access to offer/sell what they want, however useful that may be. Alex now works with Mydex, which aims to help us do that. Alex writes:

David very kindly asked me to sketch a few examples of how personal data stores and services (PDS) might help young people.

At present, most information is presented in an Organisation centric way. The individual has to seek permission to do business with the organisation. myBT presents itself as being a way for the individual to engage, but it has no facility to send an email.

By contrast, Scottish Power does let you send an email, and I was pleasantly surprise to receive a reply within two hours.

The NHS does not normally let you see your patient record. In Scotland, one GP practice does, others will either try to charge you or offer you the address of another practice, rather than offering a patient-centric service. This means little potential for personalised, collaborative health and well-being to be offered, or relationships to grow between young people and their service providers.

In Scotland, you can have a Young Scot card between the age of 11 and 26. You can do a certain number of things with it, and it is innovative. However, along with many other cards, there is a tendency for mobile phone applications to support or potentially replace it. Nor is it a ubiquitous, joined up, means for young people to obtain an easier, simpler or more cost-effective life. It offers part, but not all of these attributes we seek.

So how might some of the emerging digital technologies help young people engage socially and economically with their communities?

Facebook delivers social innovation and gratification to young people. Young people might use Google to search for content, and as yet I have not seen any demographic analysis of Google + adoption and use. As far as I can tell, neither of them have as yet sparked a tremendous feeling of community across age groups, or added significant public value, although research may be forthcoming that does show their impact.

Until the individual becomes the centre of integration, the status quo will likely prevail. It is mathematically impossible to have a single view of the customer, when there are more than 2,000 government agencies in UK fighting to make themselves the prime owner of our information. The Government Digital Service is addressing elements of this, although the Cabinet Office will likely need HM Treasury support and understanding of just how PDS can simplify transactions and save money.

In a user-led future, individuals will create personal data stores, services and an eco-system. The eco-system and Apps that grow around it will enable young people to contribute in new ways. They will require convenience, trust and security, of which the greatest need among young people is convenience.

So, for example, young people might have a Personal Data Store which they will populate with their personal information ( health ; employability ; benefits ; education ; consumer preferences ; work experience ), and then voluntarily share certain aspects of that with e.g. FE College, Employers, DWP, family members in order to progress their employment prospects.

Everything can then be under the young person’s control, and they are the point of integration. Being able to do this from a personal data store saves time, effort and cost for the young person.

So, young people might act as the digital proxy, or digital carer for older people in their community. They may then be able to co-produce public services, or volunteer personal information or personal budgets to third parties, so that young and old members in the community can work together for better outcomes.

A young person could help their older relative record medical information, for onward transmission to their personal health record. Or they could assist in sharing volunteered personal information about their energy consumption, financial services information or any other aspect of “care” in the widest possible sense.

To deliver these use cases, and others, Mydex is creating the means for individuals to be at the centre, by equipping themselves with personal data stores and services.

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