The journey so far

Hi there, I’m Alex Craven and ‘Our Data Mutual’ is an idea I’ve been working on for over a year now. In my day job I’m a founder and CEO of an advertising agency called Bloom (www.bloomagency.co.uk) and this idea started out with a question in my mind: How can the issues surrounding data, data privacy and data security be addressed without killing the opportunity to build a better world?

Working in advertising I’m only too aware of the daily buying and selling of personal data that’s often enabled by ‘terms and conditions’ that no one ever reads. Yet, at the same time, I’m aware that this data is still hugely inefficient and that the companies buying this data for use in advertising are often working on the knowledge that less than 1% of the data they’re buying will result in customer interest in their product.

It’s insane when you think about it; only the data brokers are benefiting, while at the same time perfectly legitimate companies are wasting huge sums of money trying to find people that want their products or services. It’s a situation that causes consumers to resent advertisers while simultaneously wasting advertisers’ money. Madness!

I wanted to find a place where, for most people, it would actually be ok to collect this data; a place where its value could be realised, and that the people would receive some of that value. But also it was critical that the opportunity to use data for good was enabled. The problems I hope this may solve were, in no particular order:

  • What type of organisation would people trust?
  • Who is responsible for protecting me from my data being abused?
  • There is a better way to do things but changing it will require money – where would that money come from?
  • Who would fund the creation of this?
  • How can we build a system that attracts advertisers into a better way of working with consumers?
  • How can we improve the way we receive advertising?
  • Shouldn’t companies sign up to my ‘acceptable usage policy’ on data?
  • Isn’t there a better way to manage terms and conditions on websites? Why are there millions of versions of what is around 70% the same thing?
  • How can I get single view of all the data that’s held about me? Can I create an organisation that actually enables companies to do this willingly? What’s in it for them?

I saw and still see many others grappling with similar issues, but I was frustrated with attempts to control and regulate this. We know prohibition doesn’t work; there is a role for regulation, but in a technology landscape that moves so fast that I doubt legislation can keep up, I wanted to find a way of building a consensus-based system and platform that most legitimate organisations would subscribe to. It’s something that would work primarily for us, the consumer – or perhaps a better term would be ‘citizen’.

The conclusion I came to is that this needs to be a mutual society. It has to be citizen-owned. Mutuality ‘designs out’ many of the issues that would face the other options such as a social enterprise, charity, private company or state-owned organisation. This is a new type of institution, one that turns the old institutional model on its head. Citizen-owned, democratic, commercially focused and designed to do good.

The final problem is that because this has to be a mutual, there’s no incentive for the traditional investor sources such as banks or VCs. This won’t make anyone a billionaire. But this does need to be funded, and I’m looking for someone at the right type of organisation, perhaps you, to step forward…

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