Published on May 28th, 2014 | by Xiao Ma

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What Happens When You Own Your Personal Data?

We live in an increasingly connected world, where much of our lives is being captured digitally as data; our transactions, our interactions, our movements. And as more things become connected through the Internet-of-Things (IoT), even more data is being generated. This is known as big data. But who owns or uses our (consumers’) data?

Even as I write this, most of our personal data is still owned by firms, whether it is your shopping list (supermarkets), your energy usage (energy providers), or your search data (search engines). Various companies do claim that consumers own their data; however it is in a passive mode, meaning that we have to download our own data. And we probably we wouldn’t know how to make use of such data as it is structured to facilitate companies’ use. Also, we probably can quite easily find that companies can make use of our data in x number of ways in their terms and conditions.

The HAT concept

So the HAT (Hub-of-All-Things) project is setting out to do something very different – to provide a digital vault for our personal data. The HAT gives individuals an opportunity to create a repository of our own data, generated and owned by us. Through the Internet-of-Things (IoT) technology, HAT will collect even more data than companies may have, such as our consumption data which companies don’t yet enjoy the same visibility as they do with purchase data. Such detailed personal data is both a digital asset to the individual, and a potential commodity for trade.

However, there is the assumption that human cognition isn’t able to take on the massive amount of information that could be generated from such smart objects. Indeed, very little is known about how people interact with data and how much of the data which we generate can actually inform our day-to-day decision-making. We also do not know whether the data we generate can change our consumption habits and behaviour. Finally, we are uncertain about whether and to what extent the data that we produce, influences other decision-makers around us.

Introducing HARRIET

WMG has secured funding from the Research Councils UK (RCUK) Digital Economy Theme to partner with the Birmingham City Council to create the HARRIET (HAT Resource Integration and Enabling Tool) project. This will equip homes with technology and software to create a HAT that can assist individuals to better understand their household behaviour and make “smarter” money-saving and time-saving decisions based on the data they then share on how they act as consumers within their homes. The HARRIET project offers a new approach to answering these questions by observing actual household behaviour and developing a personal resource planning system to support decisions made by individuals, ie.a smart ‘me’.

HARRIET presents a number of differences from existing IoT/ Big Data related research. While traditional research views the customer, who either accepts or rejects the product/service developed by businesses, to be outside the supply system, HARRIET offers a new perspective in which the customer is also viewed as an inside component of the supply system. This means that the customer, through his/her behaviour, becomes an inherent component of the supply system, and thereby transforms this system into a collaborative exchange system.

In addition, HARRIET considers a person (customer) to be in the centre. The main focus of this project is to understand how “smart” things interact with human behaviour, and possibly how this behaviour can be informed by the new data from “smart” things to catalyse the appearance of a more informed “smart” consumer with more informed “smart” decisions. The transformation of industry-oriented vertical data to personally-oriented horizontal data could generate new innovations that can potentially “nudge” individuals towards healthier, happier and more effective living. In a way, HARRIET will be a proof of concept that customers could be “nudged” into making “smarter” consumption decisions which would optimise business-customer interactions and create more value for each household.

Further thoughts – Personal Data Economy

HARRIET is our investigation on personal data economy in a living lab based on households. There are other living labs to facilitate investigation in data-driven economy from other aspects. For example, Fraunhofer IIS established “smart shops” as a “service factory” in the JOSEPHs project in Germany; Alibaba has invested US$692 million in physical shops in China to test the O2O businesses model, using big data from IoT and smartphones to provide personalised services to consumers.

However, this is still driven by firms from the firms’ perspective. It could be called a “personalised data economy”, but it is still not the real “personal data economy” for individuals. That’s why the HAT and HARRIET are dedicated to investigating this IoT and big data enabled multi-sided market from OUR point of view, to internalise resources around us to make our lives better.

 

 

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Xiao Ma is a Senior Research Fellow within the Service Systems Research Group, he also leads the Internet-of-Things Special Interest Group at WMG.

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