Why We Deserve More for Our Data

Unless you live in a cave and have never touched a smartphone or computer, you may already know that it’s impossible not to leave a personal data trail while navigating the digital world. The invisible cookies are always watching our activities and algorithms making suggestions for the benefit of the digital economy. And now with connected devices, our society will be awash in data soon.

Companies have been busy minting money by monetizing our personal data. In return, we get to use their app, website, or service for “free,” but with advertisements. Targeted ads are now commonplace on Facebook. It’s not a surprise that a bulk of its revenue comes from advertisements. On the other hand, data brokers, such as Acxiom Corp., collect hundreds of data points per person for millions of people worldwide. The company processes over 50 trillion sales transactions/ year by selling consumer data multiple times to multiple customers without our knowledge. There is no way we can find out where our data is stored and how it is being sold behind the curtains.

This raises some important questions: Is this a fair trade-off in which we get access to free services and in return companies make a fortune? Will companies be willing to share even a micro-percentage of their revenue with us to make the trade-off justified? And, what’s the future of information sharing? The gap between companies’ wealth and what we get in return will continue to widen. This has to change. So, what’s the solution? I think we can address this issue by flipping it on its head.

We really need to start recognizing the value of our data. We have to think of all data created by us as our personal property, not that of the company that collected it. It’s already happening. Companies like Datacoup sell your anonymous data for real money. The pricing is based on market fluctuations; users choose to sell their data at any moment to the company, which then resell it to third parties at a competitive price. Also, concepts like citizenme are gaining momentum. The company aims to liberate your personal data and make artificial intelligence accessible to everyone. You are in control of your data and discover what it says about you, and you can choose to exchange it with a company. And, your data always remains anonymous and aggregated. In fact, 72% of consumers surveyed feel that cash rewards will motivate them to share their personal data with companies.

It’s not in distant future that we may start signing ‘personal data contracts’ with companies which will bring transparency upfront in terms of:

  • Where is my data stored?
  • What information on me is collected?
  • How is my data being used?
  • How much I get paid?
  • What are my options if I want to revoke my data and terminate the contract?

What about privacy then? Well, it’s conditional. We are witnessing events like ‘data privacy day’ happening and regulations gradually taking shape across the world. But at the heart of the debates about data privacy today, there lies a mirage—an assumption that digital regulations will address the privacy-related issues OR we should develop self-control in protecting our privacy online OR companies should be more cognizant of our privacy.

First, the law will never catch up. Regulations are always behind the curve compared with technological advancements. While digital regulations will evolve at their own pace across geographies, they should not be considered as the only resort for protecting consumer data.

Second, let’s face it—while we generally voice a desire for privacy, we are also very open with the information we share about our lives online. In fact, 77% of us view social media platforms as critical to maintaining social relationships. In spite of all the concerns about companies tracking our information online, few people swore off the Internet entirely. Human conversations are being replaced with ‘updates’ and ‘likes.’ We are still very likely to disclose personal information online, download apps, upload images, and follow free sites. The truth is that we tend to focus more on the benefits we’ll get out of the activity online, than the risk of engaging in it and this will not change in the future either.

And third, many companies believe that they have done their part by publishing privacy and security policies. But more than half of consumers see the densely packed text in the “terms and conditions” popup, think “This is Greek to me,” and skim past it to press the “I ACCEPT” button. No matter how hard we try to protect our information, it’s almost impossible to do it. Almost 50% of consumers surveyed agreed that there is no data privacy in the digital world, with everything being online.

I believe the notion of “privacy” will undergo a radical change over the next 10 years. We should have a ‘Delete’ button that allows us to be in full control of our data. It’s up to us to decide what we choose to disclose or not disclose about ourselves, and in which contexts, and with whom. It may be that what is seen as the unethical sale of data today will be acceptable tomorrow. As consumers become more educated about how companies are using their data, they might be willing to assume more risk in exchange for more value than simply a personalized experience or a free service. This kind of trade-off, called the give-to-get ratio, will be the new norm for privacy in the future.

We surely need open and honest conversations about the future of information sharing, and how we want our data to be traded in the dynamic digital economy because we deserve more for our data.

Disrupting Disruption at Davos

For those of us in the futurology business the concept of disruption has long been a central organizing principle of how we look at the world and the people and organizations that try to navigate it.

In white paper after white paper, and in presentation after presentation, we’ve told those that care to read or listen that “technology x is going to be disruptive”; that “company y has the potential to disrupt the market”; that “the fat margins that vendor z is currently enjoying leaves it open to disruption from lower cost alternatives emerging in the market”.

Each time we’ve bandied the D word around we’ve done it with relish and zeal; disruption – our unquestioned assumption has been – is a good thing. Don’t agree? Well, dear reader, dear audience member, you’re a dodo, you’re a Luddite, you’re not with the program. You’re toast.

This semi-mystical belief in the power – and inherent goodness – of disruption has, over the last 30 years, seeped from the pages of technology journals into the zeitgeist of modern business. As software has increasingly eaten business, business has increasingly adopted tech-centric mantras. Now even the humblest widget manufacturer is attuned to the notion of being disruptive – or being disrupted.

But a funny thing has happened recently. A funny thing that was on full-display along the snowy Promenade in Davos last week.

The disruption we’ve practiced and preached has itself been disrupted. Disruption has taken a new shape, a new form factor, a new guise. Disruption has a new name.

No prizes for guessing who I’m talking about.

Now Davos man and woman – the archetypal proselytizers of disruption – are being disrupted. And guess what? They don’t like it.

Disrupting is great fun. Being disrupted is absolutely horrible.

An unintended consequence of the ever broadening accommodation with disruption over the last generation or two has been the emergence of a new complacency. Having read every book about tech-based market disruption we’ve thought that a rose is a rose is a rose. With our tech-centric hammer to hand, every problem has become a tech-centric nail to bash home.

But that’s the great (or awful) thing about disruption (depending on where you stand and what the view looks like); real disruption is always new. Always different. Always unexpected. Unforecastable.

To paraphrase (and mangle) one of the high priests of disruption, Clayton Christensen, there are two types of disruption; sustaining disruption, and disruptive disruption. Davos (wo)man (btw; that includes you, even if you weren’t actually in Switzerland – remember in the big businesses within which the majority of us work, we are all “Spartacus”) has been operating within a framework of sustaining disruption these last few decades. Though Instagram disrupted Kodak and Netflix disrupted Blockbuster these disruptions occurred within well understood market rules. As we move further into the first hundred days we don’t really know what the rules of the game are anymore. Or even what the game we’re playing is.

Real disruption is always lurking on the edge of the radar; always there. Someone on your team has told you this is coming. Someone has said, quietly from the back of the room, we better take this seriously. Surprises only happen when you’re not paying attention. And when you simply don’t want that type of disruption to occur.

So what we can take away from Davos 2017? What can we learn from this uncomfortable period in which so many of the orthodoxies that have underpinned standard operating procedure are challenged and, perhaps, overturned?

I think two things; firstly, that disruption is an ever morphing thing, which if you think you’ve got it nailed down, is probably going to slip away and fool you just when you think you’re home and dry. The unknown unknowns really are unknown.

And secondly, that, even as go about our daily work of evangelizing Blockchain, and Virtual Reality, and Quantum Computing, and Machine Learning, and Fog Computing, there are companies and people that are going to be on the wrong side of the coming disruption whose futures are not so bright. Whose better days are behind them. Who will not write the history of their great adventure. Who will not be the heroes of their story. Who will be the proverbial third spear carrier from the left when Hollywood comes to town.

Knowing that the people that we’re presenting to, who are reading our reports, who we’re consulting to, are months (or minutes) away from losing their place on the totem pole should give us all a sense of humility and humbleness, as we hand down our commandments from on high. There but for the grace of God go I.

Davos 2017 was a community trying to come to terms with the disruption ahead. Anxious at best, fearful at worst, that those who live by disruption die by disruption.

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Embarking on the NEW Love Boat

In an era where customer centricity is the nes plus ultra of a world where everything is quickly becoming digital, it would seem like a godsend to have a captive audience for 10 minutes. An hour. Or a day. How about having a captive audience for an entire week? Nirvana + Shangri La!, at least from the POV of the seller, right?

In August, my extended family and I literally got off the boat. That is, we disembarked from an extended family cruise to Alaska for my mom’s 80th birthday. And the lessons – and expectations – for a 2017 digital world were everywhere.

Among ten of us, we represented a moderately broad cross section of tastes, ages, mobility, etc. Given the relatively high dollar amounts (for us) that we spent – not to mention the hours spent researching competitors – we expected quite a plush, state of the art ride.

The boat in question (constructed in 2005 – curiously christened by Melania Trump, of all people – and fully refurbed in 2013) was certainly new-ish. Ours (can I call her “she”) certainly was up to date in the PHYSICAL world. And, if not entirely “exciting and new”, certainly NOT the old-timey “Love Boat” of 1979, either. But in 2016 – not 1979 – she was not up to date in the DIGITAL world.

Embarking in Seattle, in fact was like being transported to a technology and process-level time machine to the 1990s. The first thing I noticed was that there were a lot of people on board. A LOT.... A couple thousand, to be more precise – but generally, that’s OK in a multi-level vessel that’s as long as three football fields.

And our stateroom was fine, space-wise. For sure, it was cramped, but my family of four generally “does cramped” pretty well. We camp together in a 6 x 14 foot wooden tent cabin every summer near Yosemite, and it’s one of the highlights of our year, bonding family togetherness, taking the art-of-cozy to new levels. And certainly our starter home – a 984 sq. ft. cottage was often akin to living on a boat... ah Bay Area real estate.

But I digress... The Love Boat... Digital ... 1990s...

The first lesson of all cruise ships (or hotels, or planes, for that matter) is that all WiFi should be FREE. For heavens’ sake, like Nike, just DO IT! As a loss leader! It’s 2017! It’s the ONRAMP to the digital world. It’s good! It’s OK! At the very least, enable a free TXT option at sea – “paging Mom – where r u? Bow or stern?” The only conceivable, nostalgic silver lining to this scenario is, of course, is that the kids get to learn the lesson of “making a plan and sticking to it”.

One you get settled on any cruise ship, the next question is: What time is it? Cocktail time! How will you pay? We got kitted out with plastic, credit-card style ID cards because she was – as the clerk at check-in informed us – “A Cashless Boat”. Awesome – Code Halos here we come! WRONG. Part of me wanted a witty, Isaac-style bartender (complete with a knowing smile, and double-index finger guns). Instead, after the 5-second “hey ho!” of our order, our Isaac spent 3 minutes, with his back turned, swiping at a cash register, only to have to produce a paper receipt for us to sign for the tax (even if you go “All you Can Drink”, you still have to pay the tax when you’re off the coast of Washington in the Straits of Juan de Fuca).

Again, this struck me as totally `90s orientated. The bartenders/staff are basically reduced to paper-pushing inputters, instead of the hoped-for Isaac of legend: “Hey! Where are you guys from! What can I get for you? Do you like bloody Marys, pina coladas? (pour) You’re gonna see some orcas on this trip (pour)! Stunning glaciers (pour)! Hey, that mountain off the ship (pour) is the northernmost point of (mix, shake) the Olympic Peninsula! God bless America, here’s your martini! (Or was it a Bloody Mary? – who cares, this guy/gal is awesome... He had me at the hale-and-hearty “Hey!”)... “Come on back when you’re ready for your next one... Rob is it?”

As my colleague Ben Pring would say: “Assuming that in a bot-full-future DNA-life-based-forms (that’s you and me mate) want to deal with other DNA-life-based-forms, I’d say giving “good meeting” is going to be a pretty important job requirement in the second machine age.

This same sequence of 5% of the time “giving good face” versus the remaining 95% manually dealing with a 90s style reservation system, computer, etc. cropped up in various guises – over and over again. At the dinner hostess station. Making an off-boat excursion reservation. My 80-year-old mom getting jawed at because the “free WiFi upgrade package” she expected for my dad and her – promised over the phone by the over-zealous cruise saleslady months previously – never materialized. Says the witchy twenty-something behind the counter: “Oh? Some sales lady said it was included? Never heard of it/her/we have no record”. For the love of Pete -- it is ZERO-MARGINAL-COST WiFi – not a kilo of Beluga caviar! Just give it to her!

Lest anyone think I’m griping about a “first-word problem”: you’re absolutely right. I am. It’s a total luxury to even be able to take a cruise in the first place. And the staff that works the ships are undeniably hard workers, many of them go-getters from countries like the Philippines, Myanmar, Nepal, etc. So, like many office workers using the power of digital and systems of intelligence to eliminate rote-and-repetitive tasks, why not take away the lame dumb terminal/process drudgery and make them better aligned with the customers and what REALLY makes them tick? Or, even just start with a little – friendlier “face time”, and less “transaction time”?

All in all, it was a great trip. The family time was awesome, my mom (celebrating her 80th) really enjoyed herself, the boat didn’t sink ... and that little stateroom was surprisingly comfortable. But these floating fortresses of captive attention need a serious digital reboot to stay ahead in the delight (and repeat –revenue generation) sweepstakes.

Clearly, it’s time to disrupt these boats... You have a captive audience at your disposal for creative, personalized engagement for AN ENTIRE WEEK. A new, digital opportunity and paradigm is staring you in the face for radically new, improved, and differentiated process-level change. My family and I were Exhibit A. Time for the creative destruction to begin, NOW!

(UPDATE: The future MAY be here. I was prompted to write this blog post – and delighted – upon seeing this clip in the New York Times today from CES: “Coming to Carnival Cruises: A Wearable Medallion That Records Your Every Whim”. Yes – absolutely right. These guys get it. They’re “disrupting the ship” with their so-called “medallions” – sort of like Disney’s Magic Bands. Good for Carnival – or should call them by their nickname – “The Fun Ship”? Today – it’s a start. Tomorrow, give us Isaac and the NEW Love Boat. If not, there’ll be tens of thousands of icebergs in the shape of customers ahead.)