CitizenTrust: Data By The People For The People

CitizenTrust: Data By The People For The People 1920 1080 StJohn Deakins

A Path To Global Direct Democratic Governance Of Our Data: Individual Empowerment With Collective Governance.

A Global Digital Citizenry

Over three billion humans are now connected to the Internet. At least another billion will join us through this decade. For the first time, the majority of humanity is connected to a single global digital network.

The handful of organisations that provide the core services for this new global digital society – Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Tencent, Microsoft – have quickly become the world’s most valuable companies. Our personal data reveals insights about all of us which, in turn, enable algorithms to give us all a transformational hyper-personalised world.

Who Decides The Rules? 

However, there’s a problem. As everything in our world becomes digitised, how do we ensure that the digital world we live in properly reflects the values, rules and rights that we have striven to create in the real world over centuries?  

Central among these is Democracy. The majority of the world is now democratic. Most humans have at least some democratic say in the running of their local societies, be it at city, state, national or supra-national level. 

While attitudes to the way democracy is run in practice may vary wildly depending on local conditions, there is now a global consensus that democracy is a net benefit for society. So  how do we ensure that we are all as well represented in the digital world as we increasingly are in real life? 

Governance of the global internet still languishes in the 20th Century. The people who use the internet have no collective say about how the internet is run; standards are set by detached international bodies. Regulation is applied on a country-by-country basis. If you are fortunate, you may live in a country where national regulation has been passed to provide you with rights and protections; yet it is more likely that you don’t. If you live in Belgium or Bulgaria, congratulations; if you live in Botswana, Bahrain or Belarus, good luck!

In the last few years, important new legislation has been passed in Europe  – GDPR – which has started a trend: for example, new consumer data legislation in India – DPA,  and in California – CCPA. However, if it’s only ever rolled out on a country-by-country basis, democratic internet governance will always remain highly fragmented. This then enables global internet companies to pick and choose legislation that suits them, similar to the international tax regime.

We can do far better than this. But, if we are to look seriously at global rights and protections, there are challenges:

  1. Who sets the terms; 
  2. How does democracy work;
  3. Who pays?

A Pathway to People Powered Digital Rights

The following is a high-level description of a path through these challenges. It’s a starting framework that works: 

Purpose (The Why):

 In a global digital society, all humans are fellow digital ‘Citizens’ for the first time. We believe that all humans are equal and must be empowered with the same global digital rights, including the right to choose, collectively, what these rights should be. As with any society, alongside these rights, Citizens may also agree to common obligations which could include the obligation to vote, be civil in social environments online, or refrain from activity that is harmful to others. The important right is the right to decide as a collective.

The How:

A completely independent Personal Data governance organisation created for all Digital Citizens. ‘CitizenTrust’ is a holding title (A holding page is here:, and Citizens may wish to vote on the name of the organisation as one of their first actions.

The What:

The organisation’s most important role is to set terms for the sharing and transaction of personal data – the most precious resource in digital society. It then polices the terms, and charges a tax to ensure that the model is financially sustainable for the long term.

  • Terms: Provides the ecosystem with CitizenTrust terms: GDPR+ rules for exchange of data. These take the best of the current terms and expands on them: for example, to include rights such as Citizens receiving real-time API access to copies of their personal data from organisations they interact with. Terms could also include transparency and co-ownership of the insights that algorithms generate about us. The ethics of AI requires global governance.
  • Trust Stamp: Organisations transacting data on behalf of Citizens must commit to the CitizenTrust terms to be able to use the Citizen ‘Trust Stamp’. This is policed by the CitizenTrust by auditing standardised consent receipts. 
  • Governance: Users of all such personal data stores and transaction platforms can vote on a one-Citizen-one-vote basis. Items voted on may include: choosing Trustees, broad direction of terms of traction, and governance. Importantly, Citizens should also vote on distribution of a portion of the ‘tax’ receipts to digital third sector beneficiaries (see below).

This is critically important to the success of the model. Economics and politics are always inextricably intertwined. The CitizenTrust must be funded at a global level. The solution is a  5% ‘tax’ on global profits made by all member organisations who sign up to the terms and use the ‘Trust Stamp’.  There are a number of benefits:
– The Trust draws its funding from a % of the transaction value of personal data exchanges. Trust funding is therefore dependent on the ethical flows of data value across the digital ecosystem – this creates an alignment of purpose;
– The funding is globally-sourced and globally-regulated directly by Citizens. It is for a single purpose and should be beyond the vagaries of national partisan politics;
– While Google, Facebook or Amazon all transact ‘first-party-data’ and could conceptually join the CitizenTrust, the ‘Trust Tax’ creates a disincentive, and provides space for an alternative model to grow – plus a protection against the Big Data ‘kill zone’;
– A portion of the revenues received should be assigned to external funding of digital non-profits such as Mozilla and Wikipedia, or non-profit Data Trusts/Unions. This provides an independent source of funding for digital third sector entities.


The Trust needs funding in order to be sustainable. Therefore, the focus for the past few years has been on creating a revenue generating, for-profit, which will be able to pay the 5% tax to the CitizenTrust, and prove out the model. 

Also, the CitizenTrust has, of course, to be completely independent from CitizenMe and any other member organisation. This requires start-up funding. Currently, this is where we are at: 

  • The Blueprint for the Model is designed – the above is an outline;  
  • Potential initial trustees have been engaged from Doughty Street, Consumers International, Brazil ITS,;  
  • A number of other Personal Data Start-ups are ready to join;
  • Initial draft terms ( GDPR+) have been written. is now growing revenues and expects to be in a position to contribute its ‘tax’ to the CitizenTrust ecosystem in 2021.  In the meantime, we’d love to hear any thoughts or comments on the model. It is, after all, being created for you. 😉

StJohn Deakins

StJohn founded CitizenMe with the aim to take on the biggest challenge in the Information Age: helping digital citizens gain control of their digital identity. Personal data has meaning and value to everyone, but there is an absence of digital tools to help people realise its value. With CitizenMe, StJohn aims to fix that. With a depth of experience digitising and mobilising businesses, StJohn aims for positive change in the personal information economy. Oh… and he loves liquorice.

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