It may or may not surprise you to learn that a small group of people, and the interests they represent, collectively know more about you and your personal digital vapor trail than you do. They're top executives from global banking and telecom companies, professors from top-tier universities, as well as members of the Federal Communications Commission. They are human factors experts who are working in personal data manipulation and storage, geo-location services and cloud systems design. They are working together, right now, to chart the trajectory of your digital future.
What they're trying to sort out is a concept called Federated Identity. It's the holy grail of single sign-on meets location-relevancy-targeting, via mobile. One button access to profile, credentials and purchase, wherever, whenever. No more screen names, no more unique passwords. Digital life would become a frictionless, breezy stroll through an unending landscape of pinpoint relevancy and personalization.
Services like Reputation.com are already running with over a million users, who use the service to actively manage and control the personal data about themselves already online. A new service, debuting later this year – Personal.com – will be the first true personal data vault and brokerage service ever launched. In the Personal.com model, users subscribe and then compartmentalize their personal data into "gems" – little data nuggets of specific dimensions which they can then control access to on a case by case basis.
It sounds awesome to those of us currently managing five email accounts and as many or more unique login and password credentials across our digital lives. However, it comes with a cost, and potentially dangerous repercussions if key people don't make the right choices, especially around your personal data and what it's worth—which could potentially be the realization of a true global personal data breach the likes of which we have not seen yet.
The scenarios of this data breach event vary depending on who you talk to, but most generally involve the collusion of a broad range of detailed, personally identifiable information. Once these data sets are combined, it will be increasingly difficult to put them back. The fear then is that all of this co-mingled personal information might be leaked into the cloud, unrecoverable. Your entire personal history of everything will be seared into the fabric of the web forever. The only recourse would be to shut down the internet and start over.
In an attempt to prevent such an event, and to try and better control and manage personal data, a new breed of data-savvy entrepreneurs are switching the game on banks, telecoms and advertisers and publishers by designing a kind of "personal data vault" service that helps consumers find, manage and capitalize on the data trails they create. It's like an agent for your digital celebrity self, and it pays cash.
We live in a kind of digital feudal economy these days. We live on land we don't own, and we provide the masters of the realm (Facebook, Google, etc.) with unlimited free access to our data and behavior, which they monetize for billions of dollars. We get to keep our little plots of digital land for free and are otherwise pretty much at the whim of the feudal masters.
Personal data vaults would radically change this model. Users would subscribe to a service that would act as an intermediary between them and the digital world -- actively collecting, organizing and managing data relationships. Users would decide what data to share, with whom, and in exchange for what.
That's why I consider data, and the control and manipulation of it, to be the new oil. Like crude deposits buried deep under the surface of the earth, the growing sea of personal data represents a vein glory of new opportunities for businesses to reap massive financial gains. It also represents a new way for individuals to look at their value in the digital world – with data being an asset just like a house or a car.
You create the data by clicking, liking, checking-in and buying things all the time. Perhaps very soon you will subsidize your income by brokering and selling your data assets to the very people you currently give them to for free.