PC Forum: Shifting the balance of data power

Users gaining control of their data and online identities was the theme of the morning panel at PC Forum. It's in part a struggle for power, or a shift in the balance of power between institutions, like credit bureaus and commerce site, and individual users.
Written by Dan Farber, Inactive

Users gaining control of their data and online identities was the theme of the morning panel at PC Forum. It's in part a struggle for power, or a shift in the balance of power between institutions, like credit bureaus and commerce site, and individual users. An age old power stuggle that technology can help solve, but not without a cultural shift in how people think about their data and its use.

Scott Mitic outlined the logic behind TrustedID, which is helping people take control of their credit card data. As consumers, we don't have much control of how their data is used or sold. With Trusted ID, user can control the usage of the data, and help prevent identity fraud. "It gives us the nexus to catalyze consumers to have more control over their data," said Mitic.

Credit bureaus no like the notion of consumer intermediating their data. Mitic said the users may be willing to pay more than $4 for a credit bureau not sell their data. Equifax made over $800 million selling 200 million credit reports in 2005. Would you pay $4 or $5 (one trip to Starbucks) to control your credit data?

Twelve states have legislated that users control their credit data, and a federal bill in process, lining the pockets of credit bureau lobbyists trying to squash the legislation. "It is an issue that is complex enough that many have a hard time grasping it, but the right answer is clear. Users should have control over their data," Mitic said. "We are investing real money to ensure that people who own the data can at least share the ownership and give users control over the data. At least let us express permissions and the battle is on the path to being won."

The three credit bureaus are unwittingly selling credit reports for fraudulent purposes, Mitic said. Their incentive is to maximize the sale of the data, he added. "Somewhere in system there has to be an advocate for consumer interests. In perpetuity, as long their incentives for them to sell the data, there is a business model for a company to stand up for the rights of the consumer, and that's what we are doing now."


From left: Ted Cho, Opinity; Scott Mitic, TrustedID; Seth Goldstein, Root Markets; Esther Dyson

Seth Goldstein, CEO of Root Markets, described his lead generation trading exchange and AttentionTrust.org. "We are currently touching consumers in two ways--part mercenary and part missionary. On one hand we are actively enabling trading of mortgage leads, capturing 28 fields of information. "It's decidedly Web 1.0. The lead is worth $20 to $80. As people put data into forms in the [Root Markets trading] exchange, they can open a vault and reapply that data and see how it is being used," Goldstein said. "It's not about who owns the data, but consumers should have mechanisms to maintain their data--myware, spyware for people."

Goldstein gave a nod to attention data pioneer and my colleague Steve Gillmor, and the described AttentionTrust.org, which allows pople to send their clickstream data and store it in a "vault." People can expose clickstreams to each other. I wrote about this here. If you could credential yourself (via the Vault), a company, such as a mortgage company, could be more efficient in getting qualified leads. "In a world where consumers keep copies of their data and can represent themsleves in the marketplace--it puts user as creator," Goldstein said.

The concept of "intention" versus "attention" came up Goldstein called intention  a crystalized form of attention. "The intention of users is creating content around them, and people pay attention to that content," Goldstein said. "People will pay attention to my intentions and perhaps the trails I leave, and provide feedback to that."

"Next year we will be talking about deletion...not attention and attenuation," Goldstein concluded. That presumes Root Markets and others will be successful in getting users to place their data in vaults and have fine grained control over how it is used.

As Doc Searls said in his post, "The Intention Economy":

The Intention Economy grows around buyers, not sellers. It leverages the simple fact that buyers are the first source of money, and that they come ready-made. You don't need advertising to make them.

The Intention Economy is about markets, not marketing. You don't need marketing to make Intention Markets. The Intention Economy is built around truly open markets, not a collection of silos. In The Intention Economy, customers don't have to fly from silo to silo, like a bees from flower to flower, collecting deal inf (and unavoidable hype) like so much pollen. In The Intention Economy, the buyer notifies the market of the intent to buy, and sellers compete for the buyer's purchase. Simple as that.

Ted Cho, CEO of Opinity, described how his company's service lets users get information about a person's reputation, even if a person has several pseudonyms in play. Users submit data, such as education, eBay reputation, professional credentials, which is consolidated and then associated with a users various identities. Users have control over what information they choose to share. eBay isn't worried about people exporting their eBay feedback scores, Cho said. It's finding a way, such as certified authenticators, to prevent spoofing of the data, he added. Esther described Opinity's promise in her newsletter [$] as follows:

People develop reputations and amass credentials both online and offline; Opinity plans to help them back up assertions about themselves – and to let others safely rely on those assertions. It was originally conceived as a technology play that would provide the technical platform and tools for users to aggregate their online digital identities and assert their credentials. It still does that, but it has also added less automated, more value-added services that hook users up with offline authentication bureaus and background-checkers; users will pay fees to those third-party certifiers, including a commission to Opinity. In practice, users will be able to link to their Opinity profiles from their profiles on other sites, such as those for dating, photo-sharing and job-search. Opinity will market to and through these sites, as well as interacting directly with consumers from its own site. The pitch to websites is to increase trust and community among their users. Over time, Opinity hopes to make revenues both from websites and from individuals.

Users having control over their credit reports, clickstream, medical records, real and pseudonymous identities, etc., and an environment with sufficient privacy and mechanisms to prevent identity theft and other forms of spoofing, is all good. It's just not going to happen any time soon.  

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