The Future of Data is ‘Zero Data’

The Future of Data is ‘Zero Data’ 2600 2006 StJohn Deakins

We are on the cusp of a global transformation: it will be unlocked when billions of people choose to connect their data together with complete trust and for fair value.

When this happens, we’ll all realise the true personal, economic and societal wealth that our new digital era has the potential to provide. We’re at the very start of this journey. This is our mission.

The secret? Zero Data

Yes, the transition to abundant data will happen with… zero data. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it works. Here’s how:

1) Zero Data platforms that hold zero data

Personal data should be held by humans first, and by the companies, organisations and governments that humans choose to interact with, second.  The ultimate in ‘data minimisation’ is for the platforms in the centre to simply facilitate the interactions and not hold any data  at all. This is the exact opposite of our Google/Facebook/Amazon dominated world where all human data is being concentrated in a few global silos. 

A zero data society doesn’t mean that data isn’t shared between us, quite the opposite. With increased trust and participation, the data available and needed to drive our global society will explode exponentially.

The CitizenMe platform is the world’s first example of a commercial Zero Data platform. All data is held on the smartphones of 270,000 people who have already shared 4.8million transactions of data directly with organisations. AI algorithms do their magic locally on the Smartphone too, securely surfacing meaning from our personal data, people first. 

This is powerful. As the algorithmic revelations from our data become ever closer to who we really are, people must have access to these insights first to avoid manipulation of individuals by bad actors, or even to prevent people rejecting the benefits of a digital society.  When people are comfortable and in control of the sensitive/ vulnerable/ scary/ intimate stuff about them, and they control what is shared and with whom, they are far more likely to participate in digital society and share data. And as the number of people that participate with their data grows, the collective intelligence that we can create for all, grows exponentially. This is digital abundance.

Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

2) Zero Party Data = Citizen Data

In data industry jargon, ‘1st  party data’ is personal data that a company holds about its customers (like a customer database). Traditionally, companies gather this 1st party data using interaction information (receipts, delivery addresses, browsing behaviour from cookies, preferences gathered from a loyalty card membership, etc. They also often add purchased ‘2nd party data’ (e.g. buying a customer’s profile from PayPal or Facebook) or ‘3rd party data’ (buying a ‘file’ of extensive profiling data on a customer from a data-broker like Experian or Liveramp).

However, 3rd party data is now becoming far harder for organisations to buy due to regulations like GDPR and CCPA. 2nd party data is going the same way.  And even 1st party data is getting progressively harder.  For example, Apple and Google will stop supporting cookies used to track people across the web (Google are bringing in their own, proprietary tracking methods). 

So there is a growing “Data Void” in the Data Economy, and the data industry is scratching its head. 

Enter Zero Party Data which is data openly shared by Customers and/or Citizens in exchange for clear value (better offers, user experience etc). For this meticulous personalisation to work, Zero party data may become increasingly intimate and private to the individual. Therefore, these transactions only work if completely trusted.  In a Zero Data Economy, companies betraying a consumer’s trust will lose the relationship, and those exploiting customers’ data at scale will quickly fold. However, organisations that nurture relationships based on open and explicit trust will thrive.  

Photo by karen kayser on Unsplash

3) System Zero AI: all AI is dumb (for now)

In the last decade, we have imbued ‘AI’ (Artificial Intelligence) with both magical powers and a persona. However, AI is essentially dumb; it operates at a level lower than our system 1 ‘monkey brain’ or our primal ‘lizard brain’. AI isn’t as smart as a fruit fly, and it certainly doesn’t have a personality! Instead, AI is just a tool. But it’s great at computation and repetition. And it does understand who we are – and it will do so more and more. Professor Neil Lawrence (University of Cambridge’s Deep Mind Chair) articulated this far better a few years ago (cross posted on our blog):

“…they (AI) have no second thought, no consciousness, no sentience…. They don’t have a moral code. They can’t justify themselves in a wider context. Everything is input to output, action and reaction, they cannot explain themselves…. Having said all that, they can understand us. Or at least they will understand us to an ever increasing extent. As we make more data available they will make more rapid judgments about our circumstances, our wants, our urges, our health and our wealth.”

All AI morals and biases are created by humans. Therefore, we should take a much more mechanistic approach to the inputs that we use to create such algorithms, alongside being more open about their outcomes. Their true levels of accuracy must be explicit and, where possible, the workings (and often unavoidable biases) must be shared openly. 

System Zero AI is subservient; it must always be harnessed to the ultimate benefit of humans – students, patients, customers, citizens. Like the food we consume to nourish us, AI using personal data should have clear ‘labelling’.

Creating System Zero AI will be at the very frontier of building our new digital era. There are early data ethics initiatives and hundreds of new “Ethical AI Frameworks” that seek to help tackle these issues. There are also exciting new Zero Data technologies emerging.  The CitizenMe platform is incorporating these initiatives as they mature.

Photo by karen kayser on Unsplash

A Zero Data World

Imagine a world where data flows freely through our global society, nourishing our collective health, wealth, longevity and happiness. Companies are able to intimately personalise products and services based on who we are in any given moment. Health providers proactively cure disease. Governments solve for their Citizens at an individual level and build better societies for the short and long term. We thrive.

All of this is possible with a Zero Data approach. We are building it. Join us. 


Note: This Zero Data model is a collaborative work in progress. We welcome feedback and comments. 

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 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