Initially known as “Personal Information Management Systems” (PIMS), they have become as popular as services like Dropbox and Amazon Drive.

Internet services can connect directly to an individual’s personal data store using APIs. Most terms and conditions now come with a set of granular options which request access to people’s data in return for free use of services. This means that companies can still use people’s personal data, and directly benefit from analysing it so they can perform personalisation and segmentation exercises.

But some other activities, such as the on-sale of personal data into secondary markets, have dried up as a revenue stream. There are also now options to ‘pay for’ services which were previously free, if a person does not want to allow any access to their data.

Meet Sarah

Age: 27

An entrepreneur and business owner

Sarah is an entrepreneur. She runs a startup which sells low-cost wearable skin sensors that detect sleeping patterns, heart rate and stress levels. She initially launched her company through a successful crowdfunding campaign. With over 1,000 products sold, Sarah is now steadily growing her business.

Sarah makes profit from her company primarily through the sale of hardware devices, but also by providing the user with deep, layered insights about their daily activities and behaviours through a monthly subscription app.

The company naturally minimises the personal data it holds. Users pull all their sensor data directly into their personal datastores, where the data is maintained either locally on users’ hard disks or on their cloud storage. The app offers a range of different data-driven measurements and insights, blending sensor data with different sources in the user’s data store.

There are several different personal datastore providers, and Sarah’s team had to work hard to create several different versions of the app that offered compatibility with all of them. Although it is not a legal requirement, it has become very common for companies to publish the source code of their software for security reasons, and Sarah has chosen to follow suit with this trend to try and build trust with her users.

Sarah has also decided that she wants to run some customer analytics to see how each of her services are performing. For this she uses a popular open source customer analytics app. The app sends requests down to each user’s personal datastore and, only after the user has granted permission, it sends aggregated and anonymous insights back to Sarah's marketing team. The company never has to see or store any fine-grained, detailed data about individual users, which protects the company from coming into conflict with data protection law.