Information is a resource, and only one that increases when used. We are all familiar with the value of big data by now, and where institutions and governments are playing catch-up with Big Tech *insert current litigation against Big Tech*, it seems that grip on your personal information is still in its early days.
Between your smart watch, your search history, that note-taking app, and loads more, the data on you is super rich. But you are not in control: the data is fragmented and the market incentives are against you. But what if they weren’t? How about that second brain that would remember every detail of where you were and what you discussed? Or that assistent that would regulate your personal fitness? And I’m sure there are many, many more possibilities.
I have personally experienced the benefits a good digital log: A Friend of mine could show that he wasn’t at demonstration that ended in irregularities years ago (with the help of shared calendars and a Flickr-account) and I (and who hasn’t at this point) have turned business negotiations with the help of an unending gmail-history. But we all know this goes both ways and it isn’t exactly an equal playing field.
And of course there are alot of people that turn a NAS into a personal data vault, or that get to work on their own version of Evernote. Sometimes I even hear rumours of people harvesting data as a modern day curio cabinet. Have I heard about people that tarballed a data leak at the Dutch Tax Authority? Rumours perhaps, evidence no. But that is all hobbyism, that is definitely gonna be bulldozed by the Googles of this world.
Another way of the world that stuck to me is that money enables growth, and the incentives are aligned properly yet. Open-source and hobbyism are nice, but why can’t personal data management be a product. Even in Gmail it isn’t super easy to form a good overview of your information. Sure you can search, but even then you run into basic questions such as “What is a while ago?, “What words was I using?”, technical questions that Google (or anyone else) would blaze through if the incentives were lined up properly. Let alone questions such as: “What were my mind at in 2009?”
Last year I designed Stenos.io, an app that takes detailed notes for you. So you can remember everything, without frantically taking notes. I based the data design on ideas from Moxie Marlinspike. Having no data to begin with is a good way to improve your security posture. But I was also inspired by the guys behind Hey, a Gmail competitor. We have a weird proposition: We give you value, you give us money. No personal data, no spying and no ads, just money. And I’m very curious if the app is gonna help people get in control of their data, even though I’m well aware that recording conversations feels complicated.
One thing that I learned in this venture is that it is very hard to dodge the Apples, AWS’ses and Microsoft’s Azures of this world when building a scalable app that can compete. And they will immediately tap into your revenue, even though they just might launch a competitor to your service for free. Google Meet subtitles for instance. Please checkout “the Billion Dollar Code” on Netflix, to get a feel for how that economy works.
- The title is inspired by a quote from Moxie Marlinspike, the original quote is smarter, this is better for clicks 😉
- That smart opening is an adaptation of a quote by Johan van Benthem
- At writing the current examples of government playing catch up are Apple vs. the Netherlands, Facebook vs. the EU, Google Analytics vs GDPR, but also the Dutch Tax Authority analytics scandal(s)
- Current people out of the top of my head thinking about personal information are amongst others Tim Berners-Lee en Martijn Aslander.
- The Snowden case is a good example of the uneven playing field between government and citizens, but the “Toeslagen-affaire” in the Netherlands would be another.