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Does life imitate art? Should life imitate business?

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I’m confused. Daily. I’m a male, mid to late 30’s, with more numbers to look at day to day than I know what do with.

If you’ve read my other blogs, you’ll know I’m a technophile. So far today, my devices have told me I have;

  • Had a heart rate of 82
  • Walked 6416 steps for the day
  • Covered a distance of 4.48km
  • Consumed 942 calories
  • Burnt 1435 calories for the day
  • Had a blood pressure of 114/72
  • Used 0.8 gigabytes of data on my laptop
  • Used 0.1 gigabytes of data on my phone
  • Talked for 74 minutes for the month
  • Had 7 missed calls today
  • Received 2 text messages
  • Had 9% of my battery used by MyFitnessPal
  • Driven 24 miles
  • Used 10% of my tank of petrol
  • Spent £6.54 in Sainsbury’s for lunch

And the list goes on. Practically every part of my life measured and reported back to me because I have a device or app for it. But what does this all mean? What actions should I take on it? This is where I start to get tangled.

Does life imitate art?

Slowly but surely, we are becoming more familiar with the ‘big brother is watching you’ view of the world introduced to us in Orwell’s 1984. The skeptics will argue that ‘The EU directives on personal data are currently the only thing ‘protecting’ us from having all of our data used by companies and governments to understand our lives and make decisions on them!’. In certain ways they are right.

Aviva have a great app out at the moment, which you have probably seen advertised. You know, the one where all the family are competing to see who is the safest driver? Another aspect of life being measured.

All of that data is then used to help the insurance company determine how much ‘risk’ you pose. This of course helps them determine how much your insurance premium will be. Surely this is an invasion of privacy, right?

If data is the new oil, how much is one gigabyte worth?

I’m of the view that this is where the world should be heading. What the Aviva app does, is it gives you a ‘value transfer’. My data is of value to ‘them’ – so they give me something in return. If I drive safely, I get a monetary benefit in my premium. Win, win.

You see different value transfers everywhere. Sometimes they are small: ‘sign up…and get information about new films first’. Sometimes larger: ‘sign up to our store card and get 15% off your first purchase’. Each proposed exchange demonstrates how much businesses think your data is worth.

What does this mean for privacy?

Each and every person should choose with whom they share their data – and also which data they share. Like any trade: the more valuable the data to you, the less accessible you should make it. The more a company values your data, the more they should offer you for it. (This is where Facebook apps and games frustrate me so much; they ask for so much data without giving me much in return!).

Value transfers happen every day in business. Some people have unique skills that can’t be found elsewhere – so they are remunerated well for their talent and time (I hasten to add that this is the idea at least, if only it were always the case! Think bankers vs. doctors) . If a vendor makes a product that a business needs, they will pay a fair market rate (or over) to receive them.

Personal data should be no different.

Should life imitate business?

Businesses have changed so much over the last 100 years, and the rate of change is only rising. Organisations are being forced to evolve at an astounding rate by an evermore challenging customer base, and increasingly, the ability of small businesses to reach a broader consumer base through (for example) the web. Things have been shaken up and a number of changes have occurred which could be beneficial to individuals and their data.

Businesses (the successful ones at least) have accepted that the customer needs to be front and centre. What this has meant for data is that the silos in which customer data has been developing, for the last 15 years, are being dissolved. Data is being handled as one. This can have huge implications for individuals.

And then there was one

The 15 personal data examples that I mentioned at the start of this blog, have been accumulated and reported using 8 different devices or apps. This brings us back to my original puzzlement….

What can I do with this disjointed information? What decisions can I possibly make when I have this many disparate measurements – and messages?

If our own data silos are being broken down so that all our measurements could be merged, we would have a real opportunity to learn about the impact of the outside world. IF all the data is in one place, we might be able to see:

  • That on a Tuesday, when our normal drive to work on average is 30% longer, our blood pressure rises 10% and our calorific intake for the day tends to go up be 20%
  • That when we eat a Marks and Spencer’s Prawn Makhani, we tend to have a decrease in restful sleep of 25% for the next 2 nights

If our data were all available in one place, practical correlations could be made and analyses like these could be made. This would become the bread and butter for experienced data scientists, like those at station10. The kind that I cannot wait to sink my teeth into.


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