This feature explores a vision of the internet of the future: a world, in 2035, in which people have greater control of their data. The descriptions were developed from a workshop held in May 2017 on the future of the personal data economy. Attendees included a range of activists, researchers, and policymakers, who constructed broad scenarios and individual personas to help us explore what the future might look like, based on a number of existing trends. These scenarios and personas are developed further in Me, My Data and I, Nesta’s first report for the DECODE project.

Why 2035?

With acute problems facing the personal data economy today, focusing on the far-off future may seem like a distraction. But to fully understand the implications of giving people more control of their data - a fundamental shift in how the internet economy functions - it is necessary to consider a longer-term horizon.

This is not intended as a prediction of the future, nor of which technological advancements are most likely to take hold. The purpose and value of this kind of exercise lies in the ability to think freely about the kinds of services, and society, that could emerge based on trends, technologies and movements visible today.

Below we explore this future through four scenarios, each with imagined personas illustrating what it would be like to live in this world.

The personal data economy of 2035: setting the scene

  • Governments and companies have become increasingly worried about storing personal data. Legislation for personal data in Europe has become stricter, as policies shifted from being reactive and started anticipating rapid advances in technology and the harms that could result from companies monopolising personal data. For companies, the potential costs of getting it wrong now outweigh the monetisation value of the data itself.
  • Huge data leaks and security flaws have become increasingly common, fueled by a rapid increase in connected devices and the Internet of Things. Cases of ransomware and identity fraud rose, before people began to realise that data was less secure when stored and managed in corporate or government data silos.
  • A wave of new technologies offering people simple tools to store and manage their personal data emerged. At first these were only taken up by more technically-minded communities who were passionate about privacy and didn’t mind the extra hassle of managing all their personal information. Over time, these technologies became more user-friendly and responsive to a range of citizen needs, increasing their take up. Following this, and because holding personal data became more expensive for the private sector, large corporates saw the benefit in creating these tools, helping the idea to go mainstream.
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