Most people have a different view of their data than reality.
People far too often still believe they own their personal data and digital assets when they do not. In the current state of big data, big companies make money by tapping into the enormous amount of “free” information created by individual internet users, bundle it together and sell it to the highest bidder. And when this content and data is stolen there is seldom any liability assigned or fines paid.
Bitmark’s tools define a new digital freedom by providing an economic framework of standardized property rights, rules and infrastructure — just like the ways in which we own assets in the rest of our lives. The system will allow individuals to derive value from digital property just as we do from the things we own in the physical world — selling, buying, transferring, donating, licensing, passing down, protecting, and much more.
Ownership is power for individuals. In modern society, freedom and economic prosperity means property ownership and accumulation of wealth.
Data is the ultimate externality: everything we do in the digital environment generates it.
When we walk or drive around, our phones are generating activity, location, and sensor data, just to name a few. This data is fragmented and it often varies greatly between individuals. Developers of each app or device extract what data they need for their specific purpose and largely ignore the rest. Data is the oil of the digital economy, driving growth and change. It will be increasingly important that individuals have rights surrounding how the data they create is accessed, transferred, and ultimately owned. Your data should be very important to you, and right now, technically it’s immensely challenging to protect and transfer your data.
There are few open market exchanges of data because the costs associated with data transactions are so high. There are unclear data property rights, so negotiations between parties are complex. To put it another way, new opportunities and markets could arise if there were easier, more structured access to personal data along with clear property rights. Bitmark is building tools to help initiate this structure and new data ecosystem where the individual is at the center of opportunity.
At the core of this effort is our property system, blockchain-based tech that records and indexes who owns what data. For example, in our partnership with UC Berkeley participants donate their personal data to public health studies. In effect, they are transferring a bitmark to their data such that the rights to use the data are recorded as well. This consent, “chain of ownership,” protects both parties to transaction, not just legally but also technically. Once the ownership transfer is recorded in the blockchain, the data is encrypted for only the researcher to access:
We believe this type of transaction, where two parties directly exchange valuable assets via the blockchain, is a prototype for future data markets. Returning power of ownership to individual people in their digital lives will level the playing field for who can achieve success online. It’s not a stretch to imagine individuals accepting offers from commercial buyers for their data. Rules could be set that automate this based on specific standards. When data can be authenticated, and tracked back to its origin, parties can be easily compensated. And equally important — bad economic actors can be held accountable for negligence. All of this can create new avenues for wealth, prosperity and achievement on the internet that is not currently possible for the vast majority of people.
When an individual asserts ownership over their data control points change: networks become economies.
Take a typical online transaction, such as the sale of an eBook (a digital asset). We can ask who is in control:
- The reader “bought” a non-transferrable license to access an eBook under specific conditions (eg: can be read in App A but not App B by user A but never user B).
- The publisher (or author) receives little transactional information about the sale.
- The network (platform) controls access to read or publish the book (via a mechanism known as Digital Rights Management, or DRM). If either the publisher or reader don’t like the terms of the transaction they are stuck by the DRM.
Compare this to the UC Berkeley data donation example:
- The researcher has received clear, unforgeable consent to use an individual’s data for the duration of the study.
- The donor knows that their data is going to a specific researcher for a specific study. During the course of a study they can opt out and no further data will be transferred. They can also directly communicate with the researcher if they have questions about how and where their data is being used.
- The Bitmark blockchain controls access rights to the data stream. Only digital signatures from the donor or researcher can change these rights. (The data itself is encrypted on the donor’s devices for only the researcher. No one in the middle can decrypt it.)
When individuals have agency, over time, closed networks become open economies. We have seen this before with the ownership of land and also knowledge. Now is the time to make it happen with data.