Data banks, data brokers and citizen bargaining power

Sell to me

I wrote this this morning in a notebook as a follow up to my post yesterday… and since I don’t have time to clean it up now, I thought I’d present in raw, non-sensible form. Maybe there’s some value in a rough draft:

It’s like giving our money to a bank and having them turn around and sell our data to try to upsell us on loans and all kind of … oh wait, but the key difference is if we do get fed up, we can take our money out and go elsewhere, depriving the bank the ability to both target us with their partners’ ads and the ability to compound interest on our savings.

We need data brokers introduced into the system — organizations who are like safety deposit receptacles for our data — and who speak all APIs and actually advocate on our behalves for better service based on how “valuable” we are — this is necessary to top the scales in our favor — to reintroduce a balancing force into the marketplace because right now the choice to leave means dissing our friends — but if I’m not satisfied but still want to t talk to my friends, why can’t I be on the outside, but sending messages in? hell I’m willing to pay — in momentary access to my brokered personal profile — for access to my friends inside the silo. This is what Facebook is doing by shutting down so many accounts — it’s not personal — it’s protecting its business. They don’t want to become a myspace cesspool, succumb to empty profiles and Gresham’s Law — overrun with spam profiles and leeches and worthless profile data — a barren wasteland for advertisers who want to connect with that 8% of their customers who make up 32% of their revenue.

No it’s in data fidelity, richness, ironically FB took it upon themselves to weed out the bad from the good in their system-wide sweeps. Unfortunately they got it wrong a bunch of times. If Facebook allowed the export of data and became a data broker for its users — provided some citizen agency to its customers — there would be economic — as well as social — benefits to maintaining a clean and rich profile — beyond just expressiveness to one’s friends. For better or worse, FB users have a lot of benefit through the siloed apps of that F8 platform — but the grand vision should be closer to what Google’s marketing department christened “OpenSocial”… still though , the roles of banker and broker have yet to be made explicit and so we’ve leapt to “data portability” for nerds, forgetting that most people 1) don’t care about this stuff 2) are happy to exchange their data for services as long as their friends are doing it too 3) don’t want to be burdened with becoming their own libertarian banker! Dave Winer might want to keep everything in an XML file on his desktop, but I know few others who, IRL, feel the same way.

Thus concludes my rough notes.

So, if Facebook were perceived as a big Data Bank in the sky, how would that change things? Would people demand the ability to “withdraw” their data? Does the metaphor confuse or clarify? In any case, what is the role of data banks and data brokers? Is there a difference if the data container leverages the data for their own benefit? If they sell advertising and don’t provide a clear or universal means to opt-out? And what’s in the way of making more “benevolent” data vaults a reality — or how do we at least bring the concept into the discussion?

I have no personal interest the concept, only that’s a viable alternative to the siloed approach is missing from the discussion. And going back to the business models of OpenID and other identity providers… well, if any, that’s it. It’s like having a credit card with access to no credit — what’s the point? And OpenID becomes more valuable the more data capital it has access to. Or something like that.

Oh, and I’d like to quote something poignant that Anders Conbere said to me today in chat:

I was talking with my friend the other day and I tried to explain to him, that what I fear about facebook that I don’t fear about pretty much any other vendor is it’s continued developement as a competing platform to the web. a locked in, proprietary version and what I see, is just like Microsoft leveraged Windows as a “platform for application developement” facebook is doing that for web developement. what it offers developers is the simplicity and security of a stable developement environment at the cost of inovation because as we’ve seen, as market share grows, the ability to inovate decreases (since your success is tied to the backwards compatibility of your platform) and I see the possibility of facebook becoming a dominant platform for web application developement which will in turn lead to two decades of stagnation

So yeah, put that in your bonnet and smoke it. Or whatever.

Author: Chris Messina

Head of West Coast Business Development at Republic. Ever-curious product designer and technologist. Hashtag inventor. Previously: (YC W18), Uber, Google.

10 thoughts on “Data banks, data brokers and citizen bargaining power”

  1. Don’t they talk about this in marketing? Being able to withdraw data gives a customer choice. The other part is to feel that you will not suffer a penalty. Its more than about data withdrawal, you might want to put it somewhere else. Data is harder to move to another place, than money.

  2. An example of a data broker service could be Yahoo’s Fireeagle. Granted, it’s mainly for a subset of personal information – location.

    In short, you let fireeagle act as a go between between yourself and applications that want to use your location information. Define permissions and tolerances, such as this application by questionable company can only access my location to which country I’m in. My mates application can read my location to house number level, and also update it.

  3. If Facebook allowed the export of data and became a data broker for its users — provided some citizen agency to its customers — there would be economic — as well as social — benefits to maintaining a clean and rich profile — beyond just expressiveness to one’s friends.

    A ‘Citizen Agency’, huh? 🙂 Why don’t you guys start this broker, as an enterprise? If you think it has an economically feasable model then it surely it’s worth starting? You have the name already! 🙂

  4. @Ben: put another way, we named Citizen Agency after the concept of citizens having agency, not the other way around. 😉

    As for building said data broker: someday, someday.

  5. See this is so why I wanted you at the workshop in aug…

    yes data brokers and their roles was a big part of it. I invited both NPO and businesses because I saw both as important to the conversation. And yes I do want banks to take over. It is far better than govt being a single pt of failure. As you stated you can CANCEL at bank acct. They have to address your needs or you take you REPUTATION currency elsewhere.

    Though I did have a good discussion with govt agencies about this concept of federated identity and multiple data brokers guaranteeing that we don’t have this single pt of failure. It seems that most of the people working in govt would like something better. Just hadn’t had it offered to them before and the idea of being given a free and working system to buy into was VERY interesting to them.

    With govt agencies it is the same as the rest of the public – making it free and easy is crucial.

    also to a comment here – can you trust them? only if they are transparent and use open standards. Then you can monitor them. Don’t trust anyone blindly.

    Your privacy in regards to secrecy is gone. The next evolution of privacy is more about determining rights and legal actions once people access that data. The new AI’s that are being developed over psychometric data… yea secrecy is dying. Focus on rights.

  6. The difference between Microsoft and Facebook as a platform is that it’s much more difficult for Facebook to make their FBML (the foundation of their F8 platform) proprietary. There is nothing stopping a competitor from supporting FBML in a similar framework. If you do that, then it’s a matter of changing entrypoints…

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