Our view about data co-ops

Recently, the Co-operative party published an interesting article about data co-ops. The article mention the very few initiatives worldwide including TheGoodData.

We have been invited to share our views about data ownership, the role of co-ops to exercise that right, and some initiatives that we believe that could facilitate the creation and growth of more and stronger data-co-ops.

We share our views hereafter:

Not only our data is becoming more and more valuable, not only it can be key to address new societal challenges, but it is already impacting our daily life. Proliferation of artificial intelligence and big data technologies are already biasing the choices we have when interacting with corporations or even with the Public Administration. Ownership of our data will not only make us capture part of a new factor of production that emanates from us, but will reinforce our freedom as consumers and citizens.

However, building a data co-op that helps us exercise those rights is enormously challenging. We have suffered it when building TheGoodData. Comparing to a traditional co-op there are at least two extra challenges economically speaking:

  1. Data requires huge volume. There cannot be data co-ops of 10, 100 or 1000 people. Data co-ops need to gather data from hundreds of thousands of people to become a relevant player in front of researchers, data brokers, advertisers, etc. This challenge can be attenuated by targeting a market niche, for instance a geographical one hand in hand with a city council.
  2. Volume requires building appealing services that “harvest” and process data. Either around privacy, visualisation, research or monetisation. This represents a huge upfront investment in technology development that can only see a payback after a long period in which users are attracted little by little. Many private companies surmount that barrier with the support of venture capitalists that can provide them with enough cash flow to cover that effort. Co-ops cannot normally access to that high-risk form of funding.

There are several levers that can mitigate these 2 barriers. We mention here a few of them:

  1. Collaboration among co-ops. There are some very sizeable “data pools” that are being managed by co-ops: The Co-operative Group, John Lewis Partnership, The Midcounties Co-operative, The Phone Co-op, etc. These co-ops have millions of data points that could serve as a starting point to build a very robust data co-op. It only requires willingness from participants. This collaboration could eventually be extended to genuine “sharing economy” companies that would be willing to open their users’ data to a neutral hub, owned by the people.
  2. Support from the Administration. It is the easiest help to request, and the toughest to get, but nevertheless Public Administration can provide an enormous support with limited effort. For instance, providing access to public data at a country or municipality level, legally binding corporations to facilitate data portability in a seamless standardised way, or providing public grants and tools that foster the creation of a data ecosystem.
  3. Development of legal structures in which co-ops facilitate the participation of venture capital funds. Co-ops can already hold different types of shareholders with different rights. It may be that venture capitalists could already fit into these parameters, but it would require to set up a concrete framework in collaboration with a venture capital. A showcase where the VC can envision that its target pay-back could be achievable, and its minimum shareholding rights could be guaranteed.
  4. Embracing collaboration between data holders and data traders. In a similar way to the oil industry, landowners may hold the oil property but could lack the means to extract it. In that case of data, data co-ops may focus on holding the “property rights” of their users’ data, but looking for partners that extracts, process and trades that data. In that case, the investment required would fall under the partner duties in exchange of a revenue share. These partners could be other co-ops, private companies or even new forms of platform cooperatives like DAOs (Decentralised Autonomous Organisations). For those interested in that theoretical approach, We have written a short paper that can be read here

There may be many other levers that could propel the creation and growth of data co-ops, and we would appreciate any comment/amendment to this writing. But if none of them is activated, data co-ops may become a utopia of the past. By the time when people decide to practice as data owners it may be too late to change the whole system of corporate and public surveillance where data is in hands of third parties that guarantee the prevailing economic model.

Introduction to the subject of Ethics of Online Privacy

An introduction to readers and netizens on the subject of ethics of online privacy.

online_privacy

(Photo Credit: HealthWorksCollective)

1) Omer Tene is an Associate Professor at the College of Management Haim Striks School of Law, while Jules Polonetsky is a Co-Chair and Director of the Future of Privacy Forum.

On privacy and big data, they say:

The principles of privacy and data protection must be balanced against additional societal values such as public health, national security and law enforcement, environmental protection, and economic efficiency.

“The tasks of ensuring data security and protecting privacy become harder as information is multiplied and shared ever more widely around the world,” they add. “Information regarding individuals’ health, location, electricity use, and online activity is exposed to scrutiny, raising concerns about profiling, discrimination, exclusion, and loss of control.”

Source: The Ethics of Privacy Protection

Source: Privacy in the Age of Big Data

2) Here are 4 basic, key things that you should do to protect your online privacy:

  • Take control of the amount of personal information that you provide online. Every time you are asked to provide personal information, consider both the risks and the benefits.
  • Educate others about the importance of online privacy and the various steps they can take to protect it. The process of maintaining as much online privacy as possible must be a communal effort for the common good.
  • Get informed about laws and other types of measures that impact online privacy — advocate for the ones you support.
  • Put your money where your privacy is: let companies know that you value your privacy and that you will take your business elsewhere if they don’t.

Source: How to Protect Your Online Privacy

3) This article from Lifehacker explains how we ruin our privacy online every day. Here are a couple of tips on taking precautions:

  • As we all know, broadcasting your location when you’re not at home is problematic. Keep a careful eye on which apps want access to your location.
  • Sites like Facebook, Google and Twitter track what you’re doing on the web to get a better idea of your behavior and serve up personalised ads. They usually do this through cookies, and we make it even easier for them to track what we’re doing by never logging out of these social networks. The good news here is that a browser extension like Disconnect (edit: or TheGoodData) is all you need to make sure companies aren’t snooping on your browsing data without you realising it.

Source: How to Protect Your Online Privacy

4) The Economist Intelligence Unit reported that consumers worldwide are becoming increasingly concerned about the security of their data online.

According to Jane Frost, CEO of Britain’s Market Research Society: “Innovative use of data for research and for big business is developing rapidly, but approaches to data privacy are not — and this is creating an ethical gray area. Consumer trust in data sharing is taking a beating, and organizations need to commit to ethical data sharing that respects personal privacy or risk jeopardizing their relationship with consumers. Ethical business is good business.”

Ethical business is good business.
— Jane Frost (Market Research Society, CEO)

Source: Information Week

6) The Electronic Frontier Foundation is the leading nonprofit organization defending civil liberties in the digital world. Founded in 1990, EFF champions user privacy, free expression, and innovation through impact litigation, policy analysis, grassroots activism, and technology development.

Read about their work and see how you can take action!

Website: EFF (About Us)

Website: EFF (Work)

Website: EFF (Take Action)

Research and Values

A couple of weeks ago we ran a workshop organized by Iban Benzal. It was great in many aspects.

First of all, for the attitude and knowledge of the participants, many of them service designers or marketeers. Secondly, for the way that workshop was carefully set-up, with different exercises aimed to get the most insights and ideas about personal data and how to build a service around it. Finally, the venue was fantastic. Having a warm and inspiring atmosphere like the one at Islington Hub helps with these events!

The workshop was divided into 4 different exercises (if you want to get into the details, you can read this Evernote).

Exercise #1 was particularly interesting for us. It was about associating pictures to concepts. The 3 concepts were personal data, online data, and companies that use our online data.

thegooddata_workshop_6

One of the most valuable insights we got was the difference people made to personal data vs online data. The vast majority of the people in the workshop knew and accepted that companies were using their online data, so in exchange they could receive free services. On the other side, people perceived personal data as something much more intimate: pictures, letters, thoughts, etc. They were all much more concerned and secretive with that data. It is therefore important that we make clear that what we want to secure, process and trade is the online browsing data that people know is already being sold.

A similar finding was raised in the second exercise where people discussed how much of their online data they felt they owned. Again, people recognised that they aren’t behaving as proper owners since they are all using services without reading their T&Cs, but being somewhat conscious that they are giving away that data by accepting them.

A different response was given when we asked if this was fair, if this is the way it should be. Some people showed their strong feelings that things should work in a different way, and that we should have someone or some entity that helps us understand what we are accepting and defending our interests when terms are not fair.

thegooddata_workshop_18

It was also interesting to receive feedback to some specific features we have in our development pipeline. Most of the people preferred those that provide more visibility about the type of data being collected and about how advertisers think TheGoodData looks like. We are thus working on launching some basic functionalities around those needs.

thegooddata_workshop_17

Finally we ran a co-creation exercise where attendants — divided into two groups — had to build a new homepage. Both groups ended up with a proposal that positioned TheGoodData as a pure privacy tool, as an anti-databreach or as a data lawyer.

workshop exercise 4-5

Playing this safeguard role is part of TheGoodData mission, although it will not be how we ultimately position ourselves. It is not that we are not that, but we are more than that. And here is where our vision and principles come into play.

We have a vision were people enjoy ownership of their data. That means that people can keep it safe if they want to, but mostly that they can master it and decide whether to share it or not, and get the best terms if they go for the first.

That vision derives into seven principles that we want to transmit. Principles of positiveness and of social good. We are strong believers that we can do great things with our data provided that we master it. That is what we want to communicate as a company, and that is what we are refining through surveys and workshops, while keeping our vision and principles at the top.

TGD_Principles

Again, special thanks to Iban, workshop participants, and Marc Pascual for the great pictures.

Putting Us In Your Place

When ideating a service, it is very tough to put yourself in the end user’s place. We have been thinking about privacy and social good issues for years, and this background makes us consider that there are many concepts everybody is familiar with.

Reality is such that we all have plenty of problems and issues in our heads — we usually can spend very little time adding new ones. This is surely the case with TheGoodData. As we have seen from a recent survey, our very first challenge is to explain the problem that we are trying to address (and the way we propose solving it) in a much simpler way.

We are currently running that exercise internally. Part of it involves requesting some potential users to share their thoughts with us via usertesting.com. If you are not familiar with this tool and you are into building up and marketing new services, we strongly recommend it (or a similar one). It is an eye-opener and, in a sense, it is also humbling to see in certain aspects how far we are from passing through our goals and solution.

The great thing about it is that we know much better now the messages that we have to fine tune, and the things people like the most and the least about our proposition. It makes us much more optimistic because the tweaks that are needed are perfectly doable. The effort we put into these tweaks will make our service more attractive and easier to understand.

Let us share with you those videos. If you have time, go through any of them. They speak for themselves!

It’s All About Communication

One month after launching TheGoodData, we decided to run a survey in order to gather the first impressions of users and non users.

TheGoodData is an open and collaborative venture. Collaboration starts by getting to know our market and being responsive to it. Openness implies sharing what we learned with you through this post.

We focused the survey on finding ways to improve our service proposition and the end-to-end user experience. Given the small size of the sample (61 respondents), results are not statistically conclusive, but are good enough to identify some general insights. Detailed results can be found here.

The most relevant insight for us is that we need to improve our communication. 27% of those that read about us didn’t try the service because they didn’t understand well enough what it was about. 28% of those who tried the service have also identified service description as our most important area of improvement.

first impressions

Launching a disruptive service is always challenging. You cannot simply say that we are the “Uber of X” or the “Tinder of Y.” There is no simple way to explain something that is completely novel. However we have to do it. We will only be successful if we get volume, and volume will only arrive if people understand and like the service. It is not just about liking the service — the challenge is in making our proposition understandable.

The second insight has been about why people liked our service. Surprisingly privacy scores third in the list. Most people value our social focus more than the privacy benefits of the service. This is very important for us in order to better identify our target market and the benefits we have to stress.

benefits

Thirdly, we asked for improvement areas and we received plenty of suggestions as to how to make our service better: block ads, open data for research, visualize our digital self, make the service more engaging were some of the ideas with the highest rating. We will take those suggestions into account when prioritizing our pipeline. We also received quite a few additional insights in our open answer: building a Firefox extension or a proper “about us” page in order to build trust are very valuable ones.

improvement areas

There were some other insights about perception and importance of privacy for our users, but we will talk about it in a separate post.

Now it is time to be responsive to your feedback. In the coming days we will share with you a list of actions identified in order to improve our weaknesses and make TheGoodData grow.

In the meantime you are welcome to share your thoughts and ideas here through a comment, or directly by email at marcos@thegooddata.org

Thanks so much for your collaboration!