Everyone is talking about data at the moment. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the public has actually started to consider data seriously.
Where we put our data, who we trust to have it, and what they’re doing with it are issues that we’re starting to grapple with as our society becomes increasingly digital.
However, for Julian Ranger, executive chairman of new, user-centric data management app Digi.me, this isn’t an entirely new issue we’re contending with. “A good example I use is the car. Cars got faster and faster. And what did we discover? People die, badly; the increase in deaths flew up, serious injuries, safety concerns.”
But what has that got to do with the internet? Well, it’s the same thing, says Ranger. “We’re into 15 years of the internet. We’re seeing privacy concerns. So what do we do legislatively? Did we say to the cars: ‘You’ve got to slow down to 20-30 miles per hour?’ No. That’s crazy. In fact, in 1959 the three-point seatbelt was invented.
“So you have your seatbelt, and your crumple zones, and crash bars. What did that allow us to do? Go even faster in cars, go wider, go more off-road, do more things. Legislation is right for safety, but it’s not about restricting. It’s about saying ‘let’s put the right things in place, so we can actually do more’.”
Doing more with your data is the core tenet of Digi.me. The app aims to revolutionise the way people interact with their data by putting all of it at their fingertips. And that really means all of it.
Owning your data:
According to GDPR, people have a right to their data. That means you can ask every service you use for all the data they have on you. Banks, shops, healthcare providers, social media platforms and more will be affected. All you need to do is ask them for your data, either verbally or in writing, and they have a month to give it to you or risk a GDPR fine.
But once you have your data, what then?
That’s where Digi.Me comes in. On the face of it, the app (which is already available on iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac devices) is a repository for data. It bundles all of your data together into one place and downloads it to wherever users want it. From iCloud to Dropbox to OneDrive, the data will go where the user wants it.
Digi.me also encrypts the data so it can’t be accessed by anyone else. Ranger boasts that this makes data stored with Digi.me more secure than where it came from.
Of course, that sounds worrying. If Cambridge Analytica could influence elections with just social data, what could Digi.me do with that plus, banking and health data? Fortunately, that simply isn’t a concern. Ranger is clear that Digi.Me doesn’t, and will never, ‘see, touch, or hold data’:
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“We don’t see it, like WhatsApp doesn’t see your data, for example. They may touch it while it’s encrypted, but it goes through their server. We don’t touch it. Your data goes direct from Facebook to you, direct from the bank to you, direct from your GP to you. Digi.me is not involved. We don’t know what channels you’ve added, we don’t know anything about you personally.
“Your data is 100% private to you and fully secure.”
What does Digi.me actually do?
From a consumer perspective, the Digi.me app is genuinely interesting in and of itself. It functions a bit like Facebook’s timeline but with a lot more data sources.
Users can scroll back to any date to see what they uploaded onto social platforms, what they bought, how much exercise they did, and even what music they listened to. Obviously your mileage depends on how many data sources you add. At the time of writing there are 19 data sources compatible with Digi.me. These include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Flickr, Pinterest, PayPal, Visa, Mastercard, American Express, HSBC, Barclays, Fitbit, Spotify and a few countries’ health services.
And while it can be entertaining and useful enough to see your own data, that’s only half of Digi.me’s utility, says Ranger:
“Once you’ve got all of your data yourself, you’ve got what we call ‘rich data’. It’s wider than anyone else has because it covers all your data. Think of Facebook: they’ve got all your posts and stuff that you put on Facebook and they may have some web browsing and stuff. But they don’t have your health data, they don’t have your finance data, they don’t know how many steps you’ve done, they don’t have a lot of stuff. Nobody else has even that. But you already have more coverage.
So the other half of what Digi.me does is to allow users to quickly and accurately share their data with services that require it. Ranger continues:
“Why would a company go behind my back for scraped data which doesn’t cover all those categories, isn’t very deep in time, is 30-50% inaccurate, is expensive because they’ve got to buy it, doesn’t have my permission to use – why would they use that data when they could come directly to me?”
Data makes the world go round:
In an age where digital privacy is all the rage, a new app for sharing data might sound like the opposite of what users want and need. But ultimately, we still need to share data to enjoy many of the benefits of modern life.
As Ranger points out, it isn’t about restricting access to data, it’s about sharing it in more consumer-friendly way.
He gives the example of buying a car. In the past that would mean the car finance company speaking to the bank to gain access to the customer’s financial records. The bank would then have to find that data and send it to the car finance company who could then store it, potentially forever.
With an app like Digi.me users could simply download the car finance app, allow it to check their finance data, and send a result back to the relevant bodies. There’s no need for data to leave the customer’s device. The only message that the car finance company needs is a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, not reams of financial data. Digi.me would allow it to get an answer without dealing with any data themselves.
And that makes sense for businesses, explains Ranger: “Because I own the data and because it’s on my device, I can now do stuff without companies actually having to see it.”
But then why would companies choose to take this approach? “They do it because more people will say yes, particularly as we get to more sensitive data. Also because they don’t want the data. It’s a toxic asset. It costs money to store, money to secure, and if you lose it, god help you. All you wanted was the result. If you develop relationship with me, you can ask me for more data any time.”
Helping customers know their rights:
Of course, despite these benefits, it’s easy to see why customers might be wary of Digi.me, so another part of what the app does it to help make it easier to understand why their data is needed and what is it being used for.
When requesting data from Digi.me users, companies have to fill in a certificate to explain what they’re doing with the data. And before sending it, users have to consent to the company using the data in the ways it says it will.
This ultimately goes a lot deeper than most users will be used to. For example, on a mobile phone we are used to seeing notifications asking if we give permission for an app to connect with Facebook, for example. But Ranger explains Digi.me’s permissions go a lot further than that:
“GDPR says we have to have explicit and informed consent. We think that means answering six questions on the front screen. You’ve still got to have a long, complicated terms & conditions and everything else behind the scenes, but we think if you answer six particular questions you can get a level of informed consent.”
Those questions are:
- What data do you actually want?
- What are you going to do with that data?
- Will the data leave my device? (Basically, will they store it?)
- What are you going to give me in return? (You could get a service, convenience, or even a reward.)
- Are you going to give it to third parties and, if so, who and why?
- Will you implement right-to-forget? (Mandatory in Europe, this forces companies to delete data on people if the person requests it.)
Users can also press a button on the app to look at exactly what data they’ll be sharing before they send it.
Open and ethical:
While Ranger explained the benefits of Digi.me, Verdict had one burning question: how does Digi.me make money? Because, let’s face it, if the app doesn’t make money it sounds too good to be true and there’s no doubt customers would be dubious.
When we put it to him, Ranger smiles and nods in understanding: “We will make a profit because I believe to fund something like this, you have to have a profit motive. We wouldn’t have got the money to build this without that. You can talk about all the nice things in the world, and ethics, and open source, but people won’t fund it as a charity. So you have to have a profit motive, but that doesn’t stop you being 100% ethical.”
So how does Digi.me make money?
“We don’t sell data and we don’t sell individuals because we know nothing about them. But every time a business requests data from a customer, we’re their postman. If you say yes to the business, then your data goes. We charge the recipient $0.10. We’re just a postman. And we cap our costs at $3 per person, per business, per year. You don’t pay it as an individual, the business pays that.”
Ultimately, coming clean about how it makes cash is just one part of Digi.me’s strategy of total honesty. “The only way you can be who we are is to have radical openness,” says Ranger. “You can ask anything and I promise we will answer it fully. It’s the only way we can do it. If you’re trying to tell people “we are going to help you look after your data”, they have to have complete trust in us. And one of the easiest things about that is that we really do everything we say we do.”
The future of data:
Having had the chance to play with Digi.me’s features it’s easy to see how apps like this could become the future of data privacy and sharing.
And it’s also easy to see the real-world applications of this data. The car finance example is one, but there’s also plenty of other applications. The opportunity to share health data with doctors while travel abroad, for example; Digi.me normalises the data so it would be easy for foreign systems to integrate it. Elsewhere people could donate data to help charities or research institutes conduct more accurate studies.
As Ranger notes, the future of data isn’t about never using data at all. The solution is to make sure people know where their data is, who is using it, and why. And for businesses must become more honest with consumers in order to get better quality data from sources they can trust.
If we can achieve that we can use that data to make better products for everyone. From new medicines to powering AI to shopping, better data can take us where we want to go faster than ever before. But the first thing to do is put on the seatbelt.