Digital Memories: Personal Data is Just a Memory (part 1)

Digital Memories: Personal Data is Just a Memory (part 1) 1620 1080 StJohn Deakins

We’re in trouble. The way we talk about ownership of our personal data needs to change – and fast.

Rather than viewing personal data as a commodity, we need to start viewing it as the precious human creation that it is. Our personal data is not an industrial era product, it is the digital equivalent of a personal memory. Personal data is therefore our digital memory.  

Where we are

Our personal data is the lifeblood of the new global digital economy. Directly or indirectly, it fuels everything digital in a world where everything is becoming digitalized. As this digital era accelerates, everything around you will be powered by your (and other people’s) personal data. 

As a consequence, in just two short decades, the companies trading in the value of our personal data have become the world’s most valuable companies – collectively worth trillions of dollars. Some of these companies that trade our data, the likes of Google, Facebook, Alibaba and Amazon, are visible to us. However, the vast majority are not – and there are many thousands of them. 

Of course, the vast majority of companies don’t seek to do anything morally wrong with your data – and the best ones seek to delight us, their customers. But the industrial era lense of “personal data as a commodity” – a raw material like coal or plastic to be fed to machines in digital factories – corrupts the entire digital economy. It is by viewing  Humans as a digital commodity that we make them digital slaves.

So, how do we fix this?

Personal Data as a Memory

Simply changing the way we talk about personal data to “personal data as memory”, changes the way that the digital economy works on a profound level.

Do you own your memories? Of course you do. And do you sometimes keep memories to yourself, privately? Or choose to share them with one or two carefully selected friends, in confidence? Or sometimes even share a memory with anyone who’ll listen? The answer is yes, yes and yes – for everyone.   

These three broad categories of memory: Private to us, shared in confidence, shared with abandon – map to personal data perfectly. And of course they do, our personal data isn’t an external product, our personal data is, us. Just like our memories are.

However, the first wave of huge digital era companies are still stuck in Industrial economy thinking, at least for now. Our ambition at CitizenMe is to change that. All of our digital liberty depends on it. 

This blog is part of the series Digital Memories. Read the next post on this series Choosing how we share.

If you’d like to join us as a Citizen or Client, have any questions or would like more information, don’t hesitate to contact us at

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.

All stories by: StJohn Deakins