We are used to having big private companies be in control of our personal data in exchange for using their services. But what if we could be in control our data and earn the profit in stead of big tech companies? One way of doing this is to go together in a cooperation and share the profit. This is known from farming and housing and will from 2021 also be possible in the business of data.
A cooperative is not new phenomenon. They are social and economic communities where people democratically co-own e.g., farms, factories or blocks of flats. In this way, people can meet their common needs and share the profit of the enterprise. The power is decentralised with each shareholder having one vote to elect a board of directors.
This also apply to the polypoly cooperation, which is an open source, transparent EU data cooperative that is owned by shareholder members. From the beginning of 2021, it will be possible for people to not only be in control of their data but also to profit from it instead of big tech companies. The polypoly vision is to create a fair-trade data economy with the shareholders being able to do whatever they want with their data, either store, donate or profit on them.
Besides form sharing the profit from the polypoly cooperative, an owner will get a polyPod to safely store their data. The data in the polyPod can only be accessed with the owner’s permission and will not end up in any third-party database. This gives users a safe data storage and control with their data. If a polypoly shareholder wants to rent out their data, they decide which data and to whom and will get a share of the profit.
But the polyPod is not only a safe data storage, it also collects and sorts existing online data about the owner. In this way, a polyPod owner will be informed of online data about them and be given an opportunity to delete and do a digital spring cleaning.
So, how would it work? If you are at least 18 years old and a citizen in an EU country, you can buy a share of polypoly on their homepage and become and co-owner. Currently, it is not possible for Americans to sign-up because of legal reasons but more co-operatives are planned to make polypoly available worldwide as an alternative to the existing solutions.
polypoly is an interesting new way of storing and being in control of your data. This gives individuals a chance to gain new insights about themselves via their data, and that is what is the value, not the possibility of selling or renting out their own data, as this is probably not very lucrative for the individual and some people compare this to selling your organs. What is important is that you control you data – not the government neither private corporations.
We all know by now that data is valuable. If we willingly allow big tech companies to be in control of our data, we make them powerful – sometimes more than governments. But where governments are supposed to have interest of citizens as their main focus, private companies core interest is to make a profit. Using the structure of a cooperation is one way of decentralizing power and profit and to give data control back to anyone who chooses to be a shareholder.
Signe Agerskov is a member of the European Group on Blockchain Ethics (EGBE) and is researching blockchain ethics at the European Blockchain Center