Me, Inc. as a HAT

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Me, Inc. as a HAT


[This blog post has been updated on the 2 Nov with new content in red italics]

Today’s corporations use IT to be incredibly efficient and effective. There are IT systems for finance, accounting, inventory management, supply chains, material and enterprise resource planning. All the tools necessary for the corporation be viable and profitable amid constraints of regulation. Corporations hold vast amounts of data to achieve this;  data about production, materials, inventory, data about customers. In fact, nothing can be achieved within the modern corporation today without data and information. The corporation is also able to buy digital services of all sorts to analyse, process and make decisions from the data, be it to sort out accounting systems to managing HR. Indeed, many corporations outsource and buy in capabilities that are not core to their competencies.

Today’s individuals  also use IT to be efficient and effective. Aided by the Internet, www and our smartphones, we can organise our lives and our families, work from home, have information access at our fingertips. But in terms of computational capability, data and our ability to buy digital services, we are very far behind the corporation. Where they have data on inventory, we barely know what is in our cupboards and fridges. Where they can buy services that augment their abilities, we can just about buy a translator, maps, currency exchange. Where corporations can be omniscient through their devices and sensors, we can just about put up a camera to check on our house remotely.

The market doesn’t seem to work in our favour as individuals. More firms are coming into the digital space to share our data amongst one another, asking us for our permission to do so but the revenue models are usually ad-driven or worse, they sell our data, albeit anonymised, to other firms. We are starting to use our Facebook or Twitter identity data to sign on to other digital services and allowing Whatsapp or LinkedIn to tap into our contact list. Essentially, as more digital applications proliferate, the more we are being harvested for our data and the more we are being sold advertising. Three factors contribute to this:

  • First, we often place little value on our own data, and are prepared to sign them away for the simplest service e.g. the way we give away browser cookies to peruse a website. It is as though the corporations out there consider our data precious but because we don’t have any use of the data for ourselves, we have little regard for it.
  • Second, we also don’t have the computational or system capability to use our data. We don’t have a software platform that enables better wellbeing as well as integrates different data in the way that corporations do. Firms can buy software platforms for enterprise planning, organising and coordinating but we can’t. In addition, human beings use data quite differently from corporations. We cluster data and usage of objects according to our day-to day-contexts. Data from Tesco shopping, car journeys and school pickup are bundled together more meaningfully as a “mummy run” context compared to considering the data in the grocery, automotive and education vertical sectors.
  • Third, there isn’t any legislation out there that protects personal data currently, in terms of privacy and confidentiality (there are some around security, though). Countries are trying, but its not here yet. The challenge is also the trade-offs of privacy/confidentiality versus being innovation/market friendly. With big data creating new markets, we are already seeing governments unwilling to legislate privacy/confidentiality for fear of not benefiting on the ‘big data economy’ or ‘IoT economy’.

So how do we square this? Within the HAT project team, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about personal data and we are aware of the laudable efforts of the Digital Catapult to create a framework to ensure privacy, security, confidentiality and trust for personal data. When it is ready, we would certainly buy in to such a framework. Meanwhile, we are taking a much faster route.

Making ‘Corporations’ out of Everyone

If corporations have so much computational powers and the ability to buy services, use data effectively and have rights to keep their own data private, then why don’t we just make a corporation out of everyone? Why can’t each person have a server identity, much like an online shop is a server? If our relationship with our host provider is the same type of relationship between Tesco and their server hosting provider, it would certainly be more equitable, as I assume that the host provider would not have a right to poke around Tesco’s data. More importantly, if I decide to change hosts, I can move all my data to a different host. Essentially, I can be my own ‘corporation’ with my own ‘personal resource planning’ platform with inventory of my stuff, data about my health, wellbeing, etc. In fact, if I have the HAT, there would be an easy way to buy apps to view, analyse, and organise my data.

As we begin the alpha release of the HAT in November/December to our experimental group of 100 users, and later on to a wider community, I am mindful of the implications if we truly succeed with this. If we do succeed, we would essentially be looking at potentially half a billion people being ‘corporatised’ in a way when they sign on to get their own HATs. And as they do so, they will be empowered to store, analyse and manage their data like they have never been able to do so before.  More importantly, they will be able to speak to corporations ‘server-to-server’, API to API, leveraging on a legal framework that binds firm-to-firm relationships in far more equitable way than firm-to-consumer relationships. Some individuals may decide to bring emails back to their own server, since the ontology of the HAT schema flattens data and therefore can help combine email data with other data for better planning, searching and organising. It feels terribly powerful to have your own server, even if what you have to organise is only your own data. But the platform would certainly be attractive to developers who can create better applications to help us view, analyse, track and organise our own data that could be combined with third party datasets for better matching or recommendation services.

The amazing thing about the HAT is that as a server, you can also share your data in a “peer-to-peer” manner. This means I can share my location on a realtime basis (e.g. My iPhone location data) with my husband so that when he pulls out his HAT, he can see my location that is shared with him and it’s no one’s business except ours. And the apps I buy to view, analyse and organise my data would not have access to the data itself; it is akin to me buying a piece of software in the old days and installing it on a PC not connected to the Internet. But if I do want to share it, I can just create a data debit (which is the way all HAT data leaves the HAT) and share it with whomever I please. Such is the HAT. A personal resource planning system for the individual. Finally.


A Level Playing Field

Even as we get ready to release the HAT over the next six months, I have not missed the irony that the way we have engineered the personal data ecosystem to give control and empowerment back to the individual is to make us look like firms. Turning ourselves into a mirror image of the firm’s digital presence might finally get us respect and fair treatment, within the prevailing legal framework governing business-to-business relationships rather than being treated as passive consumers being harvested for our data. There is a reason why we are thinking like this. Without legislation for privacy and confidentiality (and one could argue it is probably impossible to legislate in a way that doesn’t dampen innovation or markets), making an individual a ‘corporation’ of sorts essentially mean that we will move personal data access and ownership into the realm of private contracts. After all, corporations have more rights over their data than we have over our own data, so we might as well be ‘corporations’ to secure the same rights. And since the economy matters so much to governments to the extent that individual rights can be trampled over in the name of the ‘big data’ economy, lets bring the game to the same level playing field by giving every HAT user the same ‘corporate’ rights as every company. Perhaps. Wouldn’t it be funny to have Amazon concerned about their data being harvested when they come to the HAT platform to provide buying recommendations? But it’s ok. It’s all API to API, so everyone would share exactly what they are willing to share. Such is the equitability of a B2B system and a world of private contracts. See my other blogpost of how this might lead to a new collective.

I believe we have one chance, and the timing is now, at the cusp when the two major industries of manufacturing is colliding with the Internet through the Internet-of-Things. It is now that we can jump in and introduce a system that brings back control to the individual, give us more rights over our personal data, in a way that is innovation- and economy-friendly. And we will need courage. From firms, government and individuals who will back our revolution to reclaim our own data and control when the time comes to launch the HAT initiative publicly in the next few months.

And what of democracy then, when this server that is the augmented and amplified us, is able to interact with governments and firms on a more level playing field? Would we finally get more collective power as a society through better coordination, better collaborative consumption through a standardised platform that is scalable for apps to interact with and yet is uniquely personal to us as individuals with our own data? We wait to see. I have spent more than 20 years helping firms with value, worth, service and their business/economic models to generate more profits. Seems helping individuals to be ‘firm’-like could be a win-win for all with better control for individuals, and yet by being innovation-friendly, this can help create more jobs and greater opportunities in the digital economy.

Finally, if this is truly successful, I am also mindful of the divide between those who can afford an augmented and amplified self through a server and those who cannot, which could potentially create a bigger divide between the haves and have-nots. As such, the HAT should be available free of charge, up to a degree of storage and depending on who you choose as your HAT host, much like the www is free. Yet, the asset of our own HAT is to have more of our own data in it so that it can be leveraged for services and exchanges. If the wellbeing of society is at stake, then it is in our interest to ensure that everyone, young or old, rich or poor, be given a HAT. Fortunately, the entire ontology, schema and database  of the HAT is open-sourced and free for anyone to innovate on. Although if you are a user and do not want to build your own software, you might prefer to just get it off a HAT platform host. In the UK, this would be through EnableID  and in Singapore, through Noggin Asia.  More HAT platform hosts are coming soon in other countries so do watch this space.

To be one of the first to get a HAT, sign up here.

Watch out for the HAT white paper on “Why Everyone Should Have a HAT: Implications for Government, Industry and Society”, soon to be released end of the year 2015.

And do sign up to be kept informed on the HAT release activities.


One thought on “Me, Inc. as a HAT

    Tristan Palmer said:
    July 31, 2015 at 3:55 pm

    Hi Irene,

    Thanks for writing the post. Interesting and thought provoking.

    There has been some considerable work in this direction from a number of parties and I just wonder if you are aware of some of them. One of the most famous was / is Diaspora and then there are others. I personally believe that this is an ideal way to go in principle, though there will be great difficulty implementing any system to critical mass as companies simply won’t want to allow us (if we wish to use their services) Anyway. I’m a fan of the idea and interested in being in touch / aware of developments. Some links for you for reference.



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