Personal best

Our propensity for feeding internet services with personal data is exploding

In 2014 we made 2.4 million posts on Facebook, sent 204 million emails, sent 277,000 tweets and made 4 million searches on Google – every minute. 

For users of the Ashley Madison extra-marital dating site, personal data was meant to be just that: personal. The recent hacking and exposure of data is an unfortunate example of how much private information we are willingly, and sometimes unknowingly, giving away about ourselves.

So what is personal data, and why is it so important?

To get an idea of scale we have to understand that not only are we talking about your search history, social media and emails which you knowingly generate, but also a vast amount of other data from your smartphone tracking your location and your medical history to your buying habits. The scale of this data is so huge that it’s recorded in terms of Exabytes – a unit of storage 1 billion times the size of a gigabyte (and, if written, contains 18 zeros).

For years businesses have been decidedly opaque in the value they extract from personal data.  What we are now seeing is that customers are becoming more aware of this data and its value. And this is leading to them being more protective and selective when giving it away and more concerned over the security and privacy surrounding their personal data.

In Europe the midata initiative is exploring this growing change by putting tools and processes in place for people to access their own data and understand the value that is holds. One early project has been brought together by midata and GoCompare for the financial services industry – who has used personal data to enhance the value of their products for a long time.

By understanding their customers’ spending and living habits they have been able to carefully select specific products and market them to the right customers with the right risk appetite. The GoCompare tool however lets consumers conduct the same kind of analysis on their spending data as banks, running this data through a catalogue of financial products to tell customers clearly and visually what the best product should be for them and exactly how much they could save, demonstrating the financial benefit and personalisation they can receive through access and control of their personal data.

The key to the future of personal data lies with a clear appreciation of its value. In the future people like you and I should have access to our own data and a full understanding of how sharing our data can benefit us. We should be able to personalise the amount of data that we are sharing, decide how it’s used and understand the level of security and risks that it brings. Whether you are engaging in a relationship you shouldn’t be or building your nest egg, you should know what you’re giving away and to what end.

So is the future of personal data ownership a bright one?

Personally, I think the data points that way.  The age of Big Data has already arrived, but the era of Small Data is yet to begin.

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Ben Gilburt

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