Open and Secure Personal Data

In his book Open Data Now: The Secret to Hot Startups, Smart Investing, Savvy Marketing, and Fast Innovation, Joel Gurin explained a type of Open Data called Smart Disclosure, which was defined as “the timely release of complex information and data in standardized, machine-readable formats in ways that enable consumers to make informed decisions.”

As Gurin explained, “Smart Disclosure combines government data, company information about products and services, and data about an individual’s own needs to help consumers make personalized decisions. Since few people are database experts, most will use this Open Data through an intermediary—a choice engine that integrates the data and helps people filter it by what’s important to them, much the way travel sites do for airline and hotel booking. These choice engines can tailor the options to fit an individual’s circumstances, budget, and priorities.”

Remember (if you are old enough) what it was like to make travel arrangements before websites like Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, Priceline, and Kayak existed, and you can imagine the immense consumer-driven business potential for applying Smart Disclosure and choice engines to every type of consumer decision.

“Smart Disclosure works best,” Gurin explained, “when it brings together data about the services a company offers with data about the individual consumer. Smart Disclosure includes giving consumers data about themselves—such as their medial records, cellphone charges, or patterns of energy use—so they can choose the products and services uniquely suited to their needs. This is Open Data in a special sense: it’s open only to the individual whom the data is about and has to be released to each person under secure conditions by the company or government agency that holds the data. It’s essential that these organizations take special care to be sure the data is not seen by anyone else. Many people may balk at the idea of having their personal data released in a digital form. But if the data is kept private and secure, giving personal data back to individuals is one of the most powerful aspects of Smart Disclosure.”

Although it sounds like a paradox, the best way to secure our personal data may be to make it open. Currently most of our own personal data is closed—especially to us, which is the real paradox.

Some of our personal data is claimed as proprietary information by the companies we do business with. Data about our health is cloaked by government regulations intended to protect it, but which mostly protects doctors from getting sued while giving medical service providers and health insurance companies more access to our medical history than we have.

If all of our personal data was open to us, and we controlled the authorization of secure access to it, our personal data would be both open and secure. This would simultaneously protect our privacy and improve our choice as consumers.


Category: Information Development
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