Memory: The Simple Trick To Understanding Personal Data

Memory: The Simple Trick To Understanding Personal Data 1732 1732 StJohn Deakins

Describing personal data is hard!  It can be defined politically, legally, economically, geographically, personally – there are many parameters. It literally means something slightly different to every single one of us. 

The framework that helps us at CitizenMe to describe personal data is one of analogue vs digital memories.

To explain this further, imagine that a person – let’s call her Joan – goes into a large grocery store and buys a carton of orange juice. It’s an everyday event between a person and a company.  

Fifty years ago, Joan would pay for the orange juice in cash, and the supermarket would record a sale of a carton of orange juice. The store would know that it had sold one carton of orange juice, so they should put more on the shelf.  If Joan knew the cashier, they might exchange hellos, leaving both with an analogue memory of the purchase, which would likely be forgotten over time.

The arrival of digital memories

Fast forward, and today Joan buys a carton of orange juice with her credit card. After the purchase, Joan will hold an analogue memory of the event (which she’ll doubtless forget) – just as she would have done fifty years ago. 

However, for the store and the credit card company, times have changed. They now have a digital memory of the ‘event’, which persists for them, and can be combined with lots of other data to create substantial value for themselves. In many countries, organisations can also sell Joan’s purchase data to others, unlocking yet more value. Joan is completely unaware of this.

The result: an analogue/digital memory divide. An asymmetry of digital knowledge – bad news for everyone. 

How can CitizenMe fix this?

Very simply, all we do at CitizenMe is give Joan, the Citizen, the ability to retain her digital memory (a personal copy) of the purchase in the store. That’s it. A simple evolution that changes everything.

Digital memories get shared between all parties at the event – with Joan, the store, and the credit card company; just like regular human memories when two people share an experience. 

Of course, Joan, the store, and the credit card company believe that their perspective defines the event, and might well believe that only one person or company can ‘own’ that memory. The reality is that they all do, but each of their memories are different. The store uses its version of events to set the correct stock levels and to understand its customers’ purchase preferences. The credit card company uses its memory to record how much money is owed, and the interest due.

Something New, Something Unique

But the critical point here is that Joan can now create something exceptional, something unique. Combining all of her digital memories across her day and life creates the most accurate and comprehensive source of *all* personal digital memories about Joan in the world – entirely ‘owned’ and controlled by Joan. 

The CitizenMe app empowers Joan even further by enabling her to draw upon her digital memory. When back in the store, Joan can now *choose* to share the information that she is pregnant, and what her new food preferences are, or that she is training for a marathon, or that she is late for the cinema. In return, Joan will gain all kinds of new value, from better product recommendations, to more loyalty points – the potential is huge.

Then the real magic happens on the edges of all our digital memories: where all our memories (and the insights, knowledge and wisdom that they reveal from them) intersect, interact and mingle. 

But first, humans need to feel that they have ownership of their digital memories and have choice and control, agency and privacy (the power to keep things secret or make them public). 

A Universal Desire

These desires appear to be universal.  I’ve spent many years living in individualist and collectivist societies. Both express the same desires for ownership, choice and control, agency and privacy – innate human needs in our digital era.  Of course, authoritarians in undemocratic societies (both real and meta-virtual ones) might tell you differently, but that’s for another blog post. 😉 

Here’s to plenty more inter-mingling memory magic. 🙂  

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