A very interesting report in this weeks Economist: Data, data everywhere.
You can order the full 14 page report by email at firstname.lastname@example.org but here are a few extracts pertaining to our particular focus on Personal Information Management Services (PIMS).
"This [data management and analytics] industry is estimated to be worth more than $100 billion and growing at almost 10% a year, roughly twice as fast as the software business as a whole."
"The reticence [to reveal valuable trade secrets regarding data collection] partly reflects fears about consumer unease and unwelcome attention from regulators. But this is short-sighted, for two reasons. First, politicians and the public are already anxious. . . Second, if users knew how the data was used, they would probably be more impressed than alarmed."
The report proposes that existing privacy rules presume paper records and new global rules and policies are required for the interconnected online world. These need to cover six broad areas: privacy, security, retention, processing, ownership and the integrity of information.
"The tension between individuals' interest in protecting their privacy and companies' interest in exploiting personal information could be resolved by giving people more control. They could be given the right to see and correct the information that an organisation holds, and to be told how it was used and with whom it was shared.
Today's privacy rules aspire to this, but fall short because of technical difficulties which the industry likes to exaggerate. Better technology should eliminate such problems. Besides, firms are already spending a great deal on collecting, sharing and processing the data; they could divert a sliver of that money to provide greater individual control."
The PAOGA proposition, providing an individual with their own secure digital safe deposit box, means that the individual can impose these rules as a condition of sharing their personal information with a company with whom they want to have a relationship. This shift of control not only provides the individual with the peace of mind they require but reduces the companies' costs and regulatory risks, and improves their data accuracy and customer reputation.
I understand that only 10% of even sensitive financial data is stored, shared and transmitted in encrypted form. Most data, even huge government data silos, rely on password protection and we are continually informed by the media how much of this data goes astray on lost CDs, memory sticks and laptops. Organisations, public and private, must stop copying data and move to controlled access, including the individual subject, providing both with an audit trail of who, when and why the data was accessed.
PAOGA provides the individual with such an audit trail including when data changes are made. All of the individuals information and documents are encrypted when stored, shared and transmitted with the 'keys' held by an independent Trusted Third Party only accessible with the permission of the individual.
"Current rules on digital records state that data should never be stored for longer than necessary because they might be misused or inadvertently released."
Given that data about a middle aged UK citizen is stored, on average, on 1,000 data silos around the world, most of which are without the knowledge let alone permission of the individual, then such rules are clearly unenforceable. Individual management of their own data allows them not only to ensure that such data is accurate and up to date, but that access to relevant data can be granted and terminated at the users behest.
"Privacy rules lean towards treating personal information as a property right. A reasonable presumption might be that the trail of data that an individual leaves behind and that can be traced to him, from clicks on search engines to book-buying preferences, belong to that individual, not the entity that collected it."
A 'condition' that an individual may demand of a potential supplier could be that, in exchange for providing access to accurate personal information, they want the company to reciprocate by providing a synchronised copy of their activity records. This would also allow the individual to aggregate such information from multiple suppliers and use data analytics tools to review their own behaviour.
It is my understanding that Personal Information, according to the European Human Rights Directive, is owned by the subject. That does not mean that an organisation, public or private, does not have legal obligations to keep records and appropriate information but I strongly object to them sharing or selling my personal information without my knowledge or permission and with no benefit to me. For example, I am not happy that the NHS propose to share or sell my records to other organisations without my knowledge but I would be willing to share my anonymised medical records with certain pharmaceutical companies or medical research organisations for a fee which I would like paid to a particular charity. My control, my consent, my benefit.
The integrity and accuracy of information is crucial to both the individual and the organisation.
Data cleansing and management is a considerable cost and ongoing task for organisations and is never complete. Data about an individual, however it has been acquired, can be out of date or simply mistyped during data entry. In most cases this is inconvenient but when organisations are increasingly making decisions about you based upon these data stores, errors could result in financial, employment, medical and legal loss and confusion with dramatic implications for the individual. The right of the individual to 'see and correct' seems an obvious mutual benefit.
Data provided by an individual, such as asserting an educational qualification, can be 'certified' by an accredited Trusted Third Party, such as UCAS or the University, with a trackback for the enquirer.
There is no 'one size fits all' solution as we embrace this digital world and not everyone will be bothered to take control and responsibility for managing their personal information. However there is a substantial and growing number of citizens, consumers, students, employees, patients who are, to quote the report, 'anxious' – PAOGA provides them with the tools and services for a better way, an alternative, a choice.
It is early days and we have much to do but the more people that use the service – the greater the benefits for both the individual and suppliers.