This was an Ashurt ( legal company ) Hosted Sydney Breakfast

The idea in a nutshell: The best idea I heard was to do with connecting data sources from a of different telcos all over Europe. 98,000 children are kidnapped each year in Europe. 90,000 by their own parent, 9,000 by kidnap rings which often take them to Africa. Paul McCarney from Data Republic, a startup Westpac has invested in told the story of linking data sets from phone companies all over Europe to find a single phone which was present when children were taken. They found two kidnap rings and returned 500 kids to their parents.

Big Data

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series of books gripped me when I was a boy. It was broad sci fi stuff in which the main characters forecast the future of the galaxy using modelling of data they’d collected. With big enough data sets and time to think, they could tell accurately what would happen next.

Here we are 30 years later and businesses are starting to think about the money they can make from their data sets. After they’ve taught about that, as today’s speakers pointed out, they get in to some of the problems they will have to face before they can monetise what they know. Like Asimov’s books 30 years ago, they can predict what groups or even individuals will do, want and need, often before those people even know. This idea personalisation using propensity modelling is reasonably well understood these days.

Today’s session, though, was filled with ideas I hadn’t heard about. They covered privacy, copyright, algorithm patenting and many other ideas. This was my first FinTech Meet Up session. I will be attending many more.

Some of the ideas they covered:

  • You don’t own your own data: If you have an app on your phone or a bank account, the app and the bank and the telco know a lot about you. If you conduct a transaction, all of them know where you are. Te sum of all the data you leak to these apps and institutions is not something you own. In some cases, you can request to see it and they have to show you but that doesn’t even mean you can leave with a copy. Data is a good example of where ownership is nine tenths of the law.
  • They don’t own the copyright to your data: There has been progress on data privacy legislation in Europe but copyright law hasn’t kept pace in Australia. Imagine you’re a bank and you have a list of all the chat conversations you’ve had with your customer. If someone copies those transcripts from your database, they may not have broken the law.
  • The guy from Data Republic (Paul McCarney): Paul seemed the best informed person on the line up answering questions. It was him who gave the data matching example I used in the ‘the idea in a nutshell’ section, above. Paul also asked a useful question around how well CEOs understood their responsibility ( legal ) for to authorise use of information from internal or external sources to personalise things using the data the company held.
  • There is a valid question about the responsibility associated with having people’s data: Some raised the responsibility that businesses, CEOs and staff have : Do people have a moral and / or shareholder responsibility to use their data for the benefit of what they do and their community. I know some banks have a mission statement about helping businesses, people and communities to thrive. It seems that they feel like they do have a responsibility, at least in theory, to use data for the good / public good.
  • Efficient markets need more data: One panel member pointed out a good example to do with privatising the French National Electricity and Gas providers (GDF and EDF. ) When those companies were privatised and floated, the regulator insisted that the data each company had was treated as an asset. The data were made available to all electricity and gas retailers so as not to disadvantage them against the newly privatised company.
  • Banks sometimes cop it unfairly: There are a number of parties involved in any banking transaction. There can be a list of up to even companies involved in each purchase or sale. However, the bank and often only the bank is held to account by customers and the press for the privacy of the deal.
  • Expensive projects waste money in this area: One panel member from Deloitte lamented the number of multi million dollar projects (unspecified) which had been delivered to operationalize organisational data with a significant problem. He didn’t name names but said he’d seen projects where people had to back to the beginning of their projects to define the basics : a governance framework, taxonomy across the organisation, meta data and description of what they were collecting.

Big data – who owns the data vs who owns the benefit ?

There are a lot of interesting ideas here. I guess looking back on my days studying Economics at University, we were all told that the market works when buyers and sellers have perfect information. I’m not sure whether we saw a step towards that today but the ideas discussed were useful.

One key question raised today was ‘who owns the benefit of the data ?’ One panel member pointed out that’s what the argument with users (vs the companies collecting the data) is about. It made me wonder, what if you were given 10 TB of data storage at birth. Then everything you did was recorded in it and the contents were protected by privacy laws. You had to pay to manage it yourself ? Would people be prepared to do that ? Who / what companies would people provide access to it ? Would you charge then to access it so you were provided relevant information and problems ?

Also, more simply, if people care so much about their privacy, why don’t they do the simplest thing and read the terms before they hit ‘accept’ on a new internet product?

The example of the children freed by the sharing of data draws in to focus for me the primary questions from today: The potential benefits associated with sharing data and the counterpoint to peoples’ privacy concerns. I believe companies to have a responsibility to society and their shareholders to provide annonomised data for the public good. I don’t think I own the data about me any more than I own a picture taken with me in it. (to be clear, an image, digital or other is literally information about me – and I clearly don’t own it.) I can’t be bothered to read the terms and conditions on the services I sign up to. I get plenty of value from them irrespective of the concerns associated with privacy. I like the fact that things like the information and products provided to me are more relevant. I guess I so also reserve the judgement to change my mind later.

The event was definitely worth going and I will be making it my business to attend other and similar events again.