Michel Kilzi is a data intelligence expert with a vision to redefine the role of data as an asset in today’s New-Economy.
As data privacy violations continue to make headlines and additional regulations are put in place, consumers are growing more aware of and concerned about the control of their data. Many are now willing to act in order to shift the needle and change the balance of the system.
Data and its derived insights have become indispensable material in the marketing journey of most insight-hungry corporates. Brands use personal data to fuel their outreach and customer retention and to ensure a curated consumer experience, thereby boosting revenues. One could go as far as to say that data is becoming an essential resource for brand success — on par with capital or human resources. This rise of data importance gives birth to new analytic technologies and services that refine and support its use and convert data into a commodity vital to the new economy.
Personal data is a commodity in current digital spaces.
For the Big Four — Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple (GAFA) — a consumer’s data is their most prized asset, often leading to monetization abuses hidden deep within unclear revenue structures. Most of these companies only think of such data as raw material and tend to forget about ethical responsibilities.
Consumers can’t easily trace what happened to their data, how it was shared or how much revenue it generated and for whom, and this lack of transparency has led to a drastic trust gap between consumers and Big Tech. Consumers have lost trust, as they felt they were forced to accept terms and conditions to continue using platforms that have become an integral part of modern communication in exchange for their privacy and data.
The data privacy/control issue isn’t new, but the attitude shift is. People care more, demand more, and the scale of change that has occurred due to the Covid-19 pandemic is major. As we live through times exposing such injustice and inequality, it’s becoming evident that this personal data ecosystem needs to undergo a major revamp. The current relationship between data producers and data consumers is defective. The dominance of one party over the other is unjustified, and when inequality grows this wide, it harms an ecosystem’s health.
The lack of transparency between corporates and end-users has driven a wave of debate into the risks of private sector ownership of this personal data ecosystem. Corporate data exploitation to create business value isn’t providing people a comparable reward, and with the number of data breaches growing exponentially, many consumers are starting to realize that something has to change to regain control of their personal data.
How do we pave a path towards a more democratic alternative?
Could personal data not become an asset for an individual as well? And couldn’t this asset, as all others do, have an economic value? Ideally, yes. Individuals should have the right to take full control of their own data and benefit from its intrinsic value. They allow it to be protected as their personal responsibility and the use of it to be monetized within the scope of various potential agreements. As challenging as it might sound, data sovereignty yields an unbiased and more equitable balance for all the concerned stakeholders in terms of mutual respect and the esteem of assets with clear, ascertained ownership rights. It will open up new avenues to the global society and each consumer.
Self-sovereign identity (SSI) is attached to the expression of individual autonomy and control. The vision for customer sovereignty is to correct the power imbalance between the data producer/holder by repositioning personal identity and data control as consumer-centric, thus enabling the individual to gain possession of their data and determine their interactions with third parties based on their own terms.
This can’t happen unless it’s supplemented by well-framed data governance. Regulatory bodies are needed to put in place rules and a means for a more easily trusted, altruistic data system. Such governance should ensure the full regain of control over an individual’s data. Data producers will have to decide how to share and on what terms based on their own strategic objectives. This new ecosystem should ensure safe data storage within a secured vault concept — giving the keys to its owner and the traceability capabilities of consented data sharing and finally opening up economic reward options being both monetary or other kinds of rewards.
The user data accumulated into one’s vault will ensure a holistic view of that specific customer’s profile which is extremely valuable to corporations and brands acting as data consumers, thus making such an individual asset more appreciative. This novel approach to digital sovereignty would be a major improvement to the entire digital society.
Steps have already been made in this direction. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) already gives individuals the power over the use of their data and holds corporations and organizations accountable for their data collection and usage practices. Yet gaps are still to be tackled, especially in terms of the usability of a “Subject Access Request” — the right of access allowing an individual to obtain records to their personal information, held by platforms, utility providers or any other kind of service providers — and the proliferation of similar regulation on other continents is a must.
Without a radical rethink about the next generation of customer sovereignty, we risk the continual erosion of our digital rights. Distorted markets, dominated by the abuse of the majority of online businesses, and a society deprived of its collective intelligence isn’t the digital world we hoped for. As cryptocurrency and social media both disrupted — and in many ways — democratized our world, data ownership is what will lead to giving everybody a stake in how our future shared economy functions.