The PDS Economy

Big ideas can be tough.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve been obsessed with one in particular: that the individual should lay claim to the information they create and use on the Internet.

Personal data stores, or PDSs, are individual containerised data storage units that trap and store consumer information so that it can be used (and traded) by the individual in return for valued online services. We’ve been talking about this technology for a long time – we were founded around a desire to claim our own data, control our own data, exchange our own data, and monetise our own data.

But there’s a problem.

Every personal data store in this new technology space is being asked, by its potential customers, investors, and analysts, to be built around a specific use case.

Sure. We get that. But there is a difference between a use case that shows what a personal data store could do, and a personal data store built primarily for that use case. The former is about building a platform, the latter is about building an application.

Most personal data stores are content to exist as an application. They work hard to prove the use case of their application, and they build their backend narrowly for that use case alone. Usually, the use case for a personal data store is security, or privacy, or the exchange and monetisation of data. These wonderful, beautiful use cases are more easily seeded, Angel-funded, and more attractive to venture capital. They create narrow, singularly-focused businesses that give everyone a sense of certainty on what is intended to be achieved.

But we didn’t.

We were afraid that by creating a single use case we would absolve ourselves of the responsibility to think through all of the possible use cases that someone else might be able to come up with. Creating a single use case would mean building the personal data store into a service offering for a few – but isn’t this naturally a technology set for the many? We really struggled with the idea of boundaries around a technology that was more ecosystem than solution set.

Designing a platform takes careful thought, as attempts are made to cover off all of the possible services, businesses and transactions that could be performed within it. All types of exchange, all types of business model, and all types of interaction – and their rules – all need to be considered.

We went for it, deciding to try and change the entire infrastructure of all of the apps that use your personal data. We want it all to sit on a single, personal data store platform, meaning that we won’t have just one use case, we’ll have many. We decided that we don’t want to build the beautiful vertical application. We want to build the beautiful horizontal platform, on top of which all verticals can sit. This was a technology dreamed up under a 6-university RCUK research grant and it deserved a grander vision.

As we started to enter the commercial environment with this vision, early conversations with potential funders began to highlight something of a dilemma. Most of the startup industry, before believing in our vision of a personal data platform, craved proof in the form of a vertical use case. Many simply did not believe that this project of ours was feasible.

Sure, everyone likes the idea of a personal data store. Who doesn’t think that personal data is valuable, or that empowering the individual to take advantage of it is important? But they would look at what it would take to build a platform capability that can support an entire ecosystem of users and say, “no, it’s too hard.” Most of the data stores heard this message, and retreated – back to the single use case, a business that can be “later developed into a platform, or not, if we make it – who cares.” They compromised, usually for the sake of funding. Those who didn’t went back to preaching the ecosystem in books, papers, and slideware. It went back to being conceptual again.

Because, even beyond funding challenges, this is a daunting technology to build. Many believe that Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon (GAFA) are too big to beat; that these are simply the platforms that control the Internet ecosystem. Many believe that it would take too long and cost too much to build the security, privacy, and confidentiality capability that is required of a platform of this sort, if it is to be at a capacity that can be usable and acceptable to the market. And many believe that a team with the engineering, economics, and ecosystem design expertise is simply too rare a commodity. The combination of it all is too much. The risks are too high.

With our tall order in front of us and some change in our pockets last year, we went about building the horizontal personal data platform we wanted. We knew that we had to prove that it was possible from an engineering and economics perspective, and we had to de-risk future investments so that this grand vision for the ecosystem could come to pass. We had barely a year or so to do it.

Today, we’re proud to announce that we did it. It is built. And we called it the HAT, the Hub of All Things. A fully-functioning platform for the personal data store ecosystem, with secure protocols for data exchanges between HATs and Internet applications. We are ready to scale.

In the end, as it turns out, we were never out to fight GAFA. We were there to offer an alternative to the ‘future Internet’ so that companies who have IoT devices, and apps, and data-sensitive services could build them in a way that is technically secure, and robust in the way it holds onto and uses personal data. We aren’t interested in the Internet of the now, we are interested in the Internet of the future. And with due respect to GAFA, the future isn’t theirs yet.

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We see a future where instead of being forced to use applications built on GAFA, Internet users can benefit from apps built on an open, privacy-preserving Internet. Instead of having to dump our information into multiple databases through our multiple accounts, and suffering the security and administrative risks that result, we can gain these services without sacrificing data control. And instead of being left out of the data economy, instead of having one account for every device and application that is out there, instead of the cybersecurity nightmare of 500 different devices and accounts for every one of the millions of Internet users that are out there on this planet, we see an alternative.

In the HAT ecosystem, each Internet user’s own personal data store can be used to sign into any app or device, and all of the data in it can be accessible to, usable by, and controllable for the user. They can exchange, use, and analyse all their information. They can buy services, intelligence and analytics for themselves with it, gaining valuable insights from their data. They can offer data to the companies, governments, and organisations to whom they give custom, and get benefits and services in return. The companies themselves can still use the data their app or device generates, subject (of course) to the data privacy laws of their customers, but individuals will have freedom to do so as well. Personal data, after all, is co-produced.

With this technology platform, the devil is in the details; specifically the engineering and economic details. This has to be a capability, not just a concept. The ability to create infrastructure that modularises the user’s account away from the service or device, so that access can be granted to both while the whole system behaves like a normal service, is a major innovation. And upon modularisation, a global standard of exchanges can emerge between these personal data stores, and the Internet applications that use them. The Hub of All Things is a creator and a champion of these standards, upon which are built strong rules to ensure that personal data is protected, and that protection is enforced, and the free transaction of personal information online can be relied upon. We have tasked ourselves to rebuild the Internet’s trust for exchanging personal data online. The trust upon which “the foundation of the data economy must be built.

Our capability needs to satisfy the technologists, the businesses, the lawyers, and the regulators, all at the same time. It has to just work. And what we have built, does. If you have an iOS device, and you use Facebook and Twitter, you can download Rumpel Lite here or, if you’re on the browser, get a HAT here and then use web Rumpel here. Try the HAT technology for free, and grab your data from these great social services, and see what you can do with it. Take control of your words, by posting to social media through your HAT and having it take your posts back from them after a few days. See what an application – a small, minor functionality on top of a massive, platform capability – can do with the even a little bit of control over our personal data. Our app was not created to be a beautiful, functional, vertical use case, but to show you how normal an app can look when it takes data from this new ecosystem. Rumpel signs on, pulls, and pushes data normally – but on the backend, it is not normal. The data for the application is coming from your HAT, and not from the Rumpel service. What we seek to demonstrate is that an app can function and behave exactly the same way any other app would, but with a completely different backend. Go and experience it for yourself.

It is not enough for technlogy to rely on good engineering. Technology demands user experience, a proper economic model, and ecosystem governance, all aligned with what the players in this market economy need, if the ecosystem itself is going to gain legs, leap forwards, and become self-regulatory and self-reinforcing. But the mundane, seamless normality of signing into an app, pushing data into it, and pulling it out in turn, is the result of some amazing engineering. I know it sounds crazy that we spent all of this time building something that will behave like every other app on the planet, but that is the point. If HATs can’t work seamlessly and behave normally in a standard live environment, that has real users, and a real market, and an actual value proposition, then we will have no cause to think of it as a serious alternative to the status quo. But in just one short year of build, we have achieved that level of normality.

Maybe this is the future of the Internet.

– Team HATDeX –

HATDeX is raising a strategic funding round, which will close when it’s fully subscribed. Interested parties can email invest@hatdex.org

You can connect with HATTERs about their user experience and ask technical questions on our user forum at forum.hatcommunity.org

For more information or to learn more about HAT business services, visit hubofallthings.com

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