Conference notes – Personal Information Economy 2017

I attended Ctrl-Shift’s Personal Information Economy 2017 conference in London on Monday. Here I share my insights and notes on the speaker talks.

Conference notes Personal Information Economy 2017

Cltl-Shift CEO Liz Brandt presenting. Always grab a front row seat, I say!

I was able to skive off my day job to attend the morning sessions of PIE17 on a crystal clear day in London this Monday. Here is my overall synthesis of what is happening, as well as some notes and thoughts from the individual talks.

I see a fundamental and unresolved tension about the essential nature of personal information.

One concept of our identity is that it ends at our skin. This is the default Western model rooted in individualism. We understand that there are limits to what can be done with information about us outside of our skin. We know it’s wrong to scrape DNA off your toothbrush and make a human clone, or a baby without your consent.

Those extreme examples aside, personal information is treated as a form of property, which can be traded as if it were a physical object, or a copyrighted article like this one. We generally regulate the use of such information via legislation (e.g. GDPR) and commercial contact, i.e. Roman Law.

The alternative concept of our identity is that is does not end at our skin. Eastern traditions emphasise the unity and connectedness of everything. Our personal information is part of our virtual self, and this is inseparable from our body. In other words, those fragments of data are actually bits of us, more like a lock of hair cut from our head, yet separated from it.

This mandates we treat such information under a different regime. Rather than property, it is about self-sovereign identity that reflects the wholeness of being. The appropriate regime is Common Law, which says that there are natural rights we have regardless of legislation or contract, and these cannot be removed.

This division was seen in the speakers and sponsors, and cannot be an easy matter for the hosts to bridge. For the conference to exist as a viable commercial activity, it needs an economic theme and revenue-generating businesses to pay. These come in two forms: sell side and buy side.

On the “sell side” is a company like Facebook, that serves the interests of corporations wishing to manipulate your behaviour. A successful Facebook ad is one that distracts you from your intention, and diverts you into a purchase funnel.

This is a form of “identity harvesting”, and it poses many moral questions. The speaker from Facebook was essentially asking “How can we do identity harvesting in an ethical and acceptable way?”. The answer is “You can’t”. Just as you cannot do ethical organ harvesting from living beings by subterfuge of truly informed consent.

I would invite you to pause reading this article for a few minutes, and watch this video of Mark Zuckerberg, and the analysis of his body language in TV interviews. The bit in the middle when he breaks out into an uncontrollable sweat at the mention of “privacy” is rather unnerving.

Is this man someone you want tracking your teenage children and selling the data he gathers on their intimate thoughts as they develop?

Privacy is essential to freedom: it allows us to experiment, make mistakes, and construct personas so as to explore. Mark Zuckerberg knows that not everything he is doing is something to be proud of. His conscious words don’t show it, but his unconscious cannot conceal his shame and anxiety.

My suggestion is that if Facebook (and other identity harvesting companies) performed the same surveillance and stalking actions in the physical world as they do online, there would be riots. How dare you do that to my children, family and friends!

On the other hand, there are many people working to empower the “buy side”, helping people to make better decisions. Rather than identity harvesting, they perform “identity projection”, augmenting the power of the individual over the system of choice around them.

The main demand side commercial opportunity at the moment are applications like price comparison shopping. In the not too distant future is may transform how we eat, and drive a “food as medicine” model, paid for by life insurers to reduce claims.

The core issue is “who is my data empowering, and to what ends?”. If it is personal data, then there needs to be only one ultimate answer: it must empower you, and to your own benefit (where that is a legitimate intent, i.e. not fraud). Anything else is a tyranny to be avoided.

The good news is that these apparently unreconcilable views and systems can find a middle ground. There are technologies being built that allow for every party to win: the user, the merchant, and the identity broker. That these appear to be gaining ground, and removing the friction from the “identity supply chain”, is room for optimism.

This conference is an important one, as it has not sold its soul to the identity harvesters, nor rejected commercialism for utopian social visions by excluding them. It brings together the different parts and players, accepts the imperfection of our present reality, and celebrates the genuine progress being made.

It is not merely for suppliers in the digital identity and personal information supply chain. Any enterprise can aspire to deliver a smart customer journey using smart contracts powered by personal information. All enterprises can deliver a better experience by helping customers to make better choices.

Twenty years ago, the rush was to build a website to present your company and transact. Today, the rust it is to build trusted relationships where people feel safe handing over personal information. If the quintessential IT conference of the late 1990s was about the Web, PIE17 is the distilled zeitgeist of our new digital economy.

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Speaker talk notes

Liz Brandt, Ctrl-Shift

  • Done for me vs to me – amplify individual’s intent?
  • Corporate digitisation vs individual – shift from former to latter
  • Critical mass of enabling components here
  • Learning to “Dance together” – data supply chains forming
  • Increase in tempo in the industry enabled by management method – lean agile
  • Ecosystems model – all succeed – done via “service to all” ethos
  • “What it means to be me” – recasting identity
  • Me2B (was B2C) – user brings value as ID

Sir Anthony Jenkins, 10x Future Technologies

  • We are at a societal fork in road and must act now
  • Building systems of systems with IoT, blockchain distributed leger, AI
  • Compute cost constraint to running algos removed
  • Blockchain opens up new opportunity, such as property market in a country with  no land registry – a trust function for transfer of value and ownership
  • Banks as intermediaries – not moving at necessary pace
  • Utopian vision: Machines do the work – prosperity for all via UBI – balance inequality
  • Dystopian vision – bimodal – non-automated jobs are low paid; high-end has high pay – return to feudal society as nature of work changes
  • “Uber moment” is coming to financial services
  • Money Tree – already more lending than small banks
  • 50% pa reduction in bank branch traffic
  • Predictions 2 years ago – then “punchy”, now “pedestrian”
  • Consumers take back control
  • AI Agent – search for loan for you; talks to pension fund – risk match; agree a deal to a smart contract
  • This is 2-5 years away
  • Incumbents don’t make shift – have resources, but don’t think about the world right
  • Brains programmed – cannot identify existential risk from technology shifts
  • Blockbuster dead – Netflix spends £4bn on original content – already bigger than the BBC
  • Three key issues
  • 1. Skills gap – digital is biggest gap. Series of careers – teach to create, collaborate, be entrepreneur
  • 2. Infrastructure – poor
  • 3. Identity – privacy and security

Prof Nigel Shadbolt, Open Data Institute

  • 1978 – AI + robotics review – Sir James Lighthill said no future
  • Today – real-time translation a-la Babel fish
  • AI – rule-based grammar – low memory and power
  • Original neural nets with 80486 era
  • Continued growth – data kept physically close – Kryders law
  • Information density constraint
  • Integration of data sources – “uneven trajectory” –
  • Midata coalition – laying down principles
  • Must release data back to consumers
  • Conservative principle – local risk
  • “Empower the citizen” [MG: Why do we need to be “empowered” by orgs, rather than have natural rights?]
  • GDPR – rights based approach
  • “Powers given back”
  • 1000000 Android apps analysed – static analysis
  • People have no sense of control
  • Data as the infrastructure
  • Open Banking – shared vocabulary that reduces friction
  • 21st century is about building data infrastructures
  • AI – now 50 years old
  • Self-aware machines, task architectures
  • IoT – standard – protocols, security; what we can and cannot control
  • Equitable outcomes a problem
  • Live in world – fraction of 1% owns 50% of resources
  • People won’t put up with it

Stephen Deadman, Facebook

  • Small screen – hard to control data; no screens; low attention span
  • Organisations to individuals – more value
  • (Artificial conscience)
  • Most problems of privacy – not motivation, but innovation
  • Not about legal defence – spirit of GDPR
  • Leadership issue

Liz Brandt, Ctrl-Shift

  • Key sectors: Health travel home money
  • Shared value – customer engagement that’s trusted
  • Principles – govern
  • “Data safe” – object/ownership model vs “attacked”
  • Loyalty/retention – one form of value
  • How to innovate with data? New management system needed.

Catherine Brien, Co-op Group

  • Trust as brand differentiator
  • Need meaningful consent
  • Security and integrity – “safe to use” data as-is
  • More than mere legal compliance
  • People have different views of trust
  • Demand-driven model – deliver value – prove enablers worth it

Jonathan Elliott, Make It Cheaper

  • People want “do it for me”
  • Service then becomes invisible – need to remind users of what happened
  • Four user categories in the market: Twitchers, switchers, snoozers and sleepers
  • Spells the end of inertia as a business model in utilities [MG: telecoms beware!]
  • 30 day cycle time to get data, too long

Julian Ranger,

  • Choice to share data
  • Privacy or sharing to privacy and sharing
  • Not just big tech giants – anyone can now reach your data
  • My own copy – own library of me
  • 100% accurate as it is mine
  • User-initiated sharing
  • Wanted credit score, not the data; move logic to the data, not the other way around
  • Download the app to device
  • Data is not the asset, it’s the ability to process it at any time
  • Iceland – banks, telcos – leading edge example

Robin Tombs, Yoti

  • Live video combined with chip + passport
  • Identity being distributed to users away from enterrpise
  • Key on your phone only, only you can access
  • Use case – checkout at supermarket – over 18
  • eBay-like – verified seller
  • Link credit card to ID – get tokenised ID
  • Principles are what drives the business
  • Selection of “industry guardians” to keep management team on the right side of honesty


  • Selling a vision of the value – art of the possible
  • Truncated customer journeys – a question of low trust
  • “Values proposition” is new value proposition
  • Perceived trust comes from user control
  • Legislation forces retention, can be unhelpful
  • Consumer can now move data – so don’t need to force them to churn, and spend money on Google and FB ads
  • Self-sovereign identity is central
  • Policy impediment – sharing of commissions; overcome fear of loss of control
  • Portability of trust and data
  • M&A as driver for portability and trust
  • Programmable everything is coming
  • Until users have bad experience risk not visible – then become very interested
  • Social change – not just biz transactions (We2B)
  • We2We – Co-operative movement founding concept

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