May 2018

The GDPR-mageddon is upon us

written by
Ken Madsen
Co-founder and CEO @ DXTR Labs

... and the emergent recognition of data as a natural resource.

Shomit Ghose, venture partner at ONSET Ventures, and one of my personal inspirations (though surely unbeknownst to him) once said this – amongst many others throughout the years:

Data is the new oil

This was back in the infancy of our company, and at a pivotal point in time where we were trying to reinvent ourselves as a Smart Toys company, in a market segment that at this point wasn’t even defined in industry reports yet.

The sudden realisation that our entire business would be centred much more on the data – or rather insights – hit hard. The value we would be able to capture through innocent play with the smart and app connected building blocks we're developing is unparalleled in the market, and we honestly believe we are on the cusp of what we now call Cognitive Toys.

But that's not what this post is about. This is about Privacy, Data Protection, how one thing is regulation, and how another is our realisation – as consumers – what our data means, and how we derive value from this.

There's no doubt that the whole Cambridge Analytica story (and the ensuing hearing on Capitol Hill), the rollout of the GDPR (that is flooding everyone's inbox these days, including this post to our followers), and the Net Neutrality discussions have catapulted Privacy sternly into the focal point of the majority of internet users and consumers.

And that is great! Because we all need this realisation jointly as consumers, and we all need the requirements for transparency and ethics as businesses. As this happens, maybe the recognition that data is not the new oil, but instead an entirely new kind of renewable natural resource, will grow. Jer Thorp, co-founder of the Office For Creative Research at the New York University, wrote about precisely this and identified three specific changes that need to happen before this becomes a reality.

In his article, Big Data Is Not the New Oil published in the Harward Business Review back in 2012, Jer argues that "[the] re-framing of data into a human context is crucial", and identifies the following three things we can do to make data more human.

First, people need to understand and experience data ownership

The GDPR and data scandals are for sure helping this agenda. I hope that more people now begin to realise that they, in fact, own and control their data, that they can request to be forgotten and deleted at a moments notice, and that they can pick up their data and move on.

You own your data. You can choose to pay with it in a direct transaction in the case of the Facebook Advertising Business model, where you purchase the facebook service by way of personal data. Or you provide your data and repurchase it in a refined and distilled form, from which you can create real value like a fitness app such as Endomondo or in our case the Parrent Insight Application that helps you understand what your kids are capable of.

Second, we need to have a more open conversation about data and ethics

This is where transparency, security, privacy, and business models become a holy trinity (quadruple?!) How do companies monetise your personal data? What do they do to safeguard your data when it is in their custody? How do they guarantee your privacy? If I borrow your car and wreck it or it's stolen, then ensuing events are rather straightforward. Concerning your personal data – not so much. At least now companies are required to send out a compulsory notification to all users about even just the possibility of a data breach.

Finally, we need to change the way that we collectively think about data, so that it is not a new oil, but instead a new kind of resource entirely

We think of data as the most fleeting natural resource; one that evaporates the second it is generated if nothing is there to capture it in the context of why it was created. I always return to this wonderful anecdote from Kenneth Cukier in his book Learning with Big Data – The Future of Education. It used to be that doctors could only use a stethoscope to listen to the heartbeat of a patient, whereas today we have tools and devices that help us monitor our heart and circulatory health, even without the doctor, and by understanding billions of data points, we can begin to predict and prevent issues even before they arise.

The data is still the same – a heart beating. It's just the data density and benefit of comparison to massive amounts of other relevant data with the right context. And because we have devices and services that can capture this data as it is being created we can today have literally lifesaving application around our wrists.

Oil stays in the ground for millions of years. Our data disappears the moment it is created – unless something captures it and stores it. You should be in control of what and where this happens.

Photo by Filip Bunkens on Unsplash

As more and more devices and services evolve to record any type of imaginable and unimaginable piece of data – to essentially mine or harvest data – users will inevitably begin to understand their role is not that of data-generating cattle, but that of the modern prosumer; being both the producer and consumer of their own data. The products and services we choose to buy and use transform the data that we produce into any form of value and insight that we might desire, and we use this insight to create a better life and world for ourselves and the people around us.

Through this entire supply chain, you should always retain full ownership of your data and have access to do with it as you see fit.

We are continuing to both revamp our website to fully comply with the GDPR, to allow you complete control of how we handle cookies, how we may contact you, or place our advertising in front of you once you leave our site. Our thoughts and ethics in regards to data privacy and especially the sensitive data created during play will be an integral part of how we design our products and services. We believe in transparency and that you should always only have to opt-in, and we will always tell you how and what data will be shared with our service before you confirm.

Because that's the kind of products we would like to use and allow our children to use.

Ken Madsen

Kenneth is our CEO and contact point for everything DXTR Tactile. Ken is making sure that everything we do, we put our passion first; our curiosity for play and learning.

Engineer by training, entrepreneur by heart, father for life.

Secret power: Can stick random objects to his forehead.


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