by Ralph Tkatchuk

Is data the currency of the future?

Sep 13, 2017
Data CenterData ManagementData Science

The value of personal data will soon be unlocked for the average user, yet researchers and businesses will also gain greater access. While it’s a bit early to predict exactly how it will look, the function and value of data looks different from just a few years ago – a trend most can agree is welcome.

data science certification eye with raining binary numbers
Credit: Thinkstock

The advent of the internet and our subsequent reliance on it for everything means that society’s most essential functions have quickly been digitized. As little as twenty years ago, information was transmitted through ancient PBX systems, newspapers and cable television.

Now, important announcements from the White House can be streamed on Facebook, or read on Twitter. The products and applications we use, the places we go, the messages we send and the calls we make all represent millions of 1s and 0s streaming into the Internet of Things: an interconnected web of devices that send and receive data. In fact, almost everything we do these days creates some sort of data.

As this web grows and more people interact with it, the “data universe” balloons to exponential proportions. Thanks to products like Samsung’s Family Hub smart fridge, EMC estimates that the amount of data in the world doubles every two years, and that by 2020, we will have created and stored more than 44 trillion gigabytes’ worth. To put that in perspective that’s over a trillion times more data than the average iPhone can hold.

Digging in the data

What are we doing with all of it? To many, this data has immense value, and they will gladly buy it for princely sums. The concept isn’t new; companies have been purchasing data for years and use it to more accurately target their potential customers. There are whole departments, and even entire firms, who are dedicated to finding patterns within this data, whether demographic, geographic, or sociological.

However, we are not the gatekeepers of this data. Much of it comes from applications and services that are free to use like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and others. When registering for these platforms, we also sign away our right to keep our usage data to ourselves. These are the “terms and conditions” that are so easily skipped over by new members eager to start posting.

A paradigm like this keeps the profits in the hands of multinational companies, and data generators themselves receive none of the profits. However, it’s not just profits that have led some to want to change the current state of affairs, but security and other benefits as well. When signing up for Gmail, for instance, you are trusting Google’s servers and security engineers to keep your compromising data safe. Until the skyrocketing popularity of blockchain in recent years, data revolutionaries calling for this model to change had their work cut out for them.

Blockchain brings the heat

The problem of unsecure, uncontrolled data is one that blockchain is uniquely positioned to fix. Blockchain’s irrefutably safe, ledger-like capabilities are groundbreaking, and so are those of its software to safely connect remote peers. These and its other traits will ensure that the inevitable mass decentralization of data be beneficial to users and subscribers of the old way as well.

Blockchain has no central solution and instead uses encryption and algorithms to get the power for its applications from a network of users. Datum, a decentralized data marketplace, is using the technology to create a decentralized database that captures the data of its users and keeps it stored securely on this same network. Impervious to hackers and under the control of no one entity but its owner, this data can be shared as much or as little as one likes.

“Data is the world’s most valuable asset, but controlled and exploited by a few large players. At Datum Foundation, we return data ownership to individuals and let them be part of this new economy,” said Roger Haenni, CEO and co-founder, Datum Foundation. The company is launching its ICO on October 17.

Future services that use Datum as a storage solution will be able to let users keep their data private, filter and sell chunks of it to relevant buyers, or simply destroy it. A system like this is advantageous not only for its safety and privacy, but because it takes a situation that, for the big guys, meant “We’ll sell your data to whoever we wish, in exchange for storing it and letting you use our app” and changes it to “We’ll pay you X for your browsing data, please.”

In a whitepaper, the platform promises to focus on the following.

  • A fast, decentralized data store allowing users to store structured data securely running on a smart contract blockchain.
  • The DAT token enabling this data storage and sharing
  • The data marketplace, enabling individuals to monetize their data on their terms.

Data as a currency

Data already moves like money does. It’s transferred between entities millions of times each second, and though this had little value to many before, blockchain is turning this notion on its head. The real value of the data generated by an average consumer will soon be exclusively in their hands. Increasingly, people will realize how unbalanced the old ways were. As the first pioneers of this undertaking begin to monetize their online habits, the data economy will grow with the same expediency as it always has, just in another direction.

The future will see users in the driver’s seat, but big data players will remain relevant. With secure, decentralized applications and airtight encrypted security, blockchain is pushing the status quo on both sides of the equation. The value of personal data will soon be unlocked for the average Joe, yet researchers and businesses will also gain greater access. While it’s too soon to predict exactly how it will look, data looks different from how it did just a few years ago, a trend most would agree is welcome.