Why are we doing this?
From supermarket reward points to rainfall data, the economic and social value of massive data collection has accrued to large organisations with the power to analyse it. In the US, supermarkets use electronic displays to change prices in real-time according to competitors and customer demand. Supercomputers combine local weather data from all over the world to send out accurate weather warnings. The volume of information held digitally is expanding, but so are the ways to access, filter and understand this information.
Sometimes these powers can leave us feeling uncomfortable, as if there is a kind of uncanny valley for data analysis. The accelerometer in a smart phone data trails its carrier’s activity levels. Car insurance companies now offer the option to install driving safety monitors. As more personal data has entered corporate and government databases, more of us have become conscious of the data we produce about ourselves.
We are on the cusp of a transition from organisations to individuals as data owners. This is driven by changing consumer expectations, regulatory responses as well as technology. The Government Midata project returns to UK citizens the personal data held on them by large corporations. Cheap Energy Club helps people share this data with utility suppliers in return for a better deal.
High-profile data leaks and IT failures have motivated new kinds of services. Patients Know Best started because the founders felt that a centralised NHS system did not serve their needs. CitizenMe pulls data from an individual’s various online profiles, exposing their digital personality and making it easier to change privacy settings.
What are we doing?
This is an emerging area of interest for Nesta. Several of our Hot Topics events have covered personal data collection, particularly Hack Yourself in 2012 and Biometrics in 2014. The Dr Know report looked at the potential value of a healthcare system that uses information from a wide range of sources. We held a workshop examining six health data futures, including different ways of managing personal data. This complements Geoff Mulgan’s prediction for 2014 as a year of people powered data and builds directly on Louise Marston’s idea that new services will emerge to improve our lives based on the data we give away every day.
The research team at Nesta are interested in better understanding policy, business model and technology innovations that will be key to the responsible development of a personal data economy. There is a careful balance to be struck between empowering people to make decisions over their own data and encouraging new businesses that make the most of this rich resource. By engaging directly with those at the cutting edge of personal data management, Nesta hopes to become a champion of best practices that are both responsible and profitable.
Six futures for health data
Check out our series of scenarios and wearable prototypes for how we'll use health data in the future.
Our report calls for an information revolution in healthcare, and makes the case for a ‘knowledge commons’ in health.