November 15, 2014

Four Futures of the Own Your Own Data OYOD Movement

data broker ftc report coverSummary: OYOD or Own Your Own Data is a simple, radical (likely unattainable) idea based on new tools, behaviors and policies that allow people to control their data and grant access to third parties. The early stage reality of an OYOD-ish future will likely be messy and imperfect — but still better than what we see  today.  

In this post I imagine four lenses on OYOD that might emerge across a spectrum between a consumer-culture personal data-as-marketplace to a more cyber-libertarian culture that uses advanced platform like blockchain-based world of DAaps (Decentralized Applications) to transform notions of privacy and control.   The most likely long term future will include an all of the above approach to controlling information under the OYOD banner. 

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[See my earlier posts: OYOD, 2013]
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The Early Days of Data 

We have lots of memes on data:
Data is new oil. Data is new soil.  Big Data.  Little Data. Connected Data

We have lots of eye-popping statistics:
Amount of web-based data doubles ever 1.5 years.  Every minute we send 204 million emails, enter 1.8 million Likes on Facebook.  There is no shortage of mind-blowing stats on data-driven change.

We have pundits and gurus all presenting their scenarios of our data-rich world from
….a dystopian future where privacy is lost and powerful corporations and governments reign supreme.
… a utopian revolution where transparency helps good triumph over evil.

What is missing? A rational conversation that is less emotional and reactive to what exists today versus a reasonable vision of a future that balances the complex needs and expectations of how people and organizations deal with data-rich lives.

Looking Beyond Today’s Wild Wild West Days of Data
The future of data conversation is largely an extrapolation of what we see today.  Think of 60Minutes episodes that strike fear of absuses of our personal data.

What are the dynamics of personal data today?

Society is mostly data illiterate.  Few people understand what data they are creating, who has access and how it might be applied to improving our lives or exploiting our privacy. Most people do not actively seek out tools or services that protect their personal information.  Parents feel like deer in headlights as they watched youth culture online.

Organizations from private companies to local libraries are equally confused about how to deal with the risks, rewards and responsibilities of this data-rich world.

Regulators have no clue how to get ahead of the rapid pace of technolgy. There is no ‘harmony’ across regions with regards to regulations or social norms.

Confusion reigns.  These days of data deserve the analog of wild wild west days of a lack of control and law.

Data Disempowers 
We live in an era where personal data disempowers most people. We have no viable alternatives to what is presented by brands we use online. Then there are companies such as Axciom, Experian, Epsilon (see FTC 2014 report Data Brokers) that collect and sell our information.

Civil rights and public advocate groups push to change the default privacy setting on most web services (Facebook, Google, et al) from ‘opt-out’ (of sharing or granting access) to ‘opt-in’.

Yet beyond this stage of confusion there is a push for a framework that tilt control back to individuals and create certainty for organizations (public and private).  The banner is often called OYOD — Own Your Own Data.

OYOD is the most obvious and the most challenging path forward. The idea is simple.  People own their data.  Everyone asks for permission to access it.

Is believing in OYOD naive?
OYOD is not without criticism.  Why would powerful stakeholders like Facebook and Google give up in control of data?  Of course, changing existing practices and business models will be difficult (if not impossible)  But moving forward most companies may see an upside to regulatory certainty and an OYOD foundation for growth based on trust and long term brand protection. OYOD offers a way to reduce the risks of data breaches and company brand value.  If companies can shed the liability of controlling personal information and gain on relationships the OYOD future might have fewer barriers than we might assume today.

OYOD is an imperfect but practical path forward

There is no official framework for OYOD – Own Your Own Data.

There is no association. No manifesto. No well known evangelists.

Another meme might emerge.  For now, OYOD fits the BYOD (Bring your own Device) lexion of our digital age.

OYOD is a path forward that tries to create frameworks, software, hardware and social norms that empower both individuals and organizations in a world where data is being created, captured and applied in more aspects of our lives.

As I see the basic elements of OYOD:

1) Be practical, not ideological
OYOD does not have to be an ‘anti’ based movement.  It does not have to be ‘anti-profits’ or ‘anti’ corporation.  This ideology offers no solution to the real world in which people do have data-driven relationships with companies. An ‘anti’ approach also ignores challenges faced by public institutions like libraries and schools who confront data challenges.  Instead think of what OYOD empowers.  OYOD empowers personal control and relationships based on an ‘opt-in’ default setting.

2) Clearly define control and ownership of data?
Focus on an access model lets organizations thrive around an ‘opt-in’ relationship

3) Evolving social norms is as important as changing government regulations
Citizens need to be taught how to manage their personal information in this networked age. (Hello, public libraries – this is your role to seize?!!)  People young and old, rich and poor must all be taught about the risks, rewards and responsibilities associated with lives that are being transformed by personal information.

4) Crypto Blockchains beat any effort to use standards
Standards for data niches (e.g. health-wellness; learning via ExperienceAPI) are great for enabling innovation but not a cure all for managing privacy concerns.  More radical OYOD solutions are likely found in emerging distributed-decentralized protocols (blockchain 2.0; Ethereum; MAIDsafe, et al)

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Four Lenses on What OYOD Should Mean…  

The OYOD banner will likely be claimed by many people.  It will likely be abused and manipulated to meet the expectations of many stakeholders.  This is my best effort to imagine four broad archetypes that could drive OYOD forward…

Lens #1: Join the Game…
OYOD = Money-maker
Selling My Data to Advertisers

The first lens sees OYOD as integrated into our consumer culture.  What does my data mean to me?  An opportunity to leverage things for benefits and rewards from places that want access.  This lens sees social media data as an asset for them to manage and control. This is the lens that personal data is a new ‘currency’.

Where do see this today?  There is no shortage of personal data marketplaces such as handshake (UK), Datacoup, Meecop (Australia) and startups trying to bring ‘profit-sharing’ providers to consumers.  Some of these end up with a yucky feeling as if we are ‘selling’ out.  Other projects will try to feel more enlightened in bringing real value.

This lens of OYOD has a lot of appeal to the mainstream world who do not see personal data as an ideological battleground.

Lens #2: Make me better at things…
OYOD = Enriching
Granting Access to Organizations will Help Me Become a Better Person

This lens of OYOD grows out the the Quantified Self movement which sees tremendous value in providing individuals with more information about how we live our lives.  This lens sees personal information as an empowering platform for living a healthier lifestyles (e.g. walking more, sitting less, eating differently) .

This is a lens that sees our social graph (who we know; how we know them) and our learning graph (what we know, how well we know things) as valuable life-changing tools.   Controlling data is not just about ‘selling’ out to corporations but to leverage for our own benefit.  Granting access to data from learning graph can help teachers, institutions, and companies can help guide me along the path to learning more about the world.

This lens has appeal to the early adopter, techno-solutionist crowd.  Small in numbers, but large in influence on setting social norms.

Lens #3: Data is a Distraction
OYOD = Bullshit
Another Sign of De-Humanizing Effects of Technology 

This is a lens that sees an OYOD phase of data-driven change as just another step towards a cold future where digital dehumanizes and large stakeholders eventually re-establish control over the masses.

People who embrace this lens will be part of the crowd of people “Leaving Facebook”.

The way to Own Your Own Data is to keep it off the web.  Keep it off social networks.

How do we control our own data?  Never create it.

This lens has appeal to very passionate people who see the world through a power-politics frame of social change.  They might be technology enthusiasts at heart but despise the negative data-breach stories that appear in their Twitter-feeds.

Lens #4: Everything Should be Distributed & Decentralized
OYOD = Might Work in a Crypto World 

This is a lens that also sees social change as a power struggle but have strong faith in the nature of decentralized systems. OYOD built on top of new tools that use cryptography and novel distributed platforms might actually work.

This lens of OYOD is in the earliest stages of development but holds the most promise in terms of building the infrastructure for decentralizing control.  Rather than bet on shifting social norms (e.g. getting people to use tools that manage their personal data on web applications) this group will simply make sure the tools provide the protection.

You can learn more about this world by following conversations on the blockchain world of Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple Codius, NXT, Sidechains, et al.

What to expect?

In 2015 OYOD will likely continue to be a fringe, under-developed idea.

If there is movement across this spectrum of four lenses I would expect the consumer lens and crypto lens to make the most progress in terms of stakeholders building out the infrastructure for their (slightly) competing visions.

It might take a few more major data breaches – and advances in real technological platform solutions – to spur real conversations at the level of policy makers and citizen leaders.  (Libraries could be the game-changing institution in this conversation… if we needed to find an institution to carry the conversation forward!)

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Learn more about OYOD

Garry’s Diigo Tags

No context but tagged lists on topics including:

Internet Culture Solutions


  • Centre for the Study of Decision-Making at University College London


Videos to Explore


MAIDSafe Vision of Distributed Information Networks



TEDx Talk on risks of lost privacy



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