Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: What is the HAT?

A: The HAT is a personal data platform created to do two things. First, the HAT acts as a personal data container and management system. This enables us as individuals to acquire our own data from Internet-connected objects or services and then to transform it by placing it into its wider context. This means that it becomes more meaningful and useful for making better decisions in our lives.

Second, it allows us to trade and exchange our own data for services in a standardised and structured manner. The HAT functions as a multi-sided market platform, in line with its objective to engineer a market for personal data. It aims to provide opportunity on both sides of the exchange by:

  1. Giving individuals the chance to exchange our data for offerings that help us lead better lives;
  2. Enabling firms to offer personalised offerings more suited to the way we as individuals experience and consume products and services daily.

Crucially, all data acquired by us as individuals into our HAT platforms is owned by us, and can only be used with our explicit permission. Hence, the HAT is revolutionary in that it enables us as individuals to claim our data and have control over it.

In summary, the HAT is the ‘CODE’:

  • A Personal Data Container
  • An Ontology and database schema that flattens and liberate vertical data
  • A Data bundling tool (contextualisation of data by yourself)
  • An Exchange platform for exchange and use of personal data.

Read more to gain a better understanding about what the HAT is, view the Prezi presentation, and watch the HAT videos: What is Your HAT? and Who Owns Your Data.


Q: How can I get my HAT and what will it cost?

A: The alpha-release of the HAT is scheduled for November 2015; sign up here to be one of the first to get a HAT platform. The HAT platform will initially be available through two HAT Platform Service Providers (HPPs); EnableID for the UK and Europe, and Noggin Asia for Singapore and Asia. More HAT platform hosts will be coming soon in other countries so do watch this space.

The HAT will be available to everyone free of charge, up to a degree of storage and depending on whom you choose as your HAT host. Also, the entire ontology, schema and database of the HAT is open-sourced and free for anyone to download and innovate with in line with its Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivative licence. This is scheduled for release on Sept 30, 2015; contact us for more information.


Q: What is the point of the HAT and why do we need it? Is there even a problem to begin with?

A: The HAT is your own personal resource platform on which you can buy and run apps to analyse, view, use and match your data with offerings out there, so that you can make better decisions. We believe that human beings need better assistance not just with information from the Web (such as what Siri offers) but also with information about ourselves. Assistance like recall or computation can be done if we have our own personal resource planner. But it has to be achieved in a privacy-preserving manner so that we feel better generating MORE data and making it useful for ourselves.


Q: What is the difference between the HAT and normal personal data containers?

A: There are many other personal data containers already available, and many services that manage data in single silos such as e-mail/communications, or diary data. Unlike these containers however, the HAT has an ontology (operationalised into a database schema) that ‘flattens’ and ‘liberates’ vertical structures of data so that personal data can be recombined,  contextualised and bundled, or integrated with other datasets in a way that is privacy-preserving and controlled by the user.


Q: What does the HAT mean to me as an individual? What can I do with my HAT?

A:  The HAT allows you as an individual to regain control over your personal data. Until now, as an individual you haven’t been able to effectively broker, exchange or monetise your data to benefit yourself. This is because you haven’t been able to integrate data across the vertical repositories – between, for example, your diary, messaging, location, finances or consumption – with applicable service timetables or catalogues.

Now, the HAT provides you with a platform that enables data containment, re-organising, bundling and exchange so that you can use your personal data in a format that enables you to make better and more informed decisions for a more meaningful life.

You can also exchange your ‘transformed’ personal data with other individuals or  organisations with whom you wish to trade within a trust framework, for more personalised offerings. The HAT therefore plays an intermediary role between individuals and firms to facilitate your interactions and transactions, but more importantly, it is controlled and owned by individuals with a set of platform rules with which we can engage with firms. Read more about what the HAT means for individuals in this blogpost: Me, Inc as a HAT.


Q: How does the HAT make my personal data ‘useful’ without my having to spend time going through it all myself?  

A: Our lives are lived across ‘vertical’ industries, hence our data is collected in vertical structures.  This data needs to be ‘liberated’ from these structures so that horizontal bundles of our data can be created for it to be useful in our lives. The HAT has a database schema that is able to transform this data horizontally by ‘flattening’ and ‘liberating’ it from these vertical structures so that it can be linked across the verticals – by time, by person, by location — to create new mash-ups and horizontal bundles of data. The HAT Project team has also developed a ‘hyperdata’’ browser that enables us to view our ‘flattened’ data so that it can then be analysed and contextualised for us to make better decisions. You can also see interesting bundles or collections of data that have been organised by other people so you could try them out for yourself!


Q: How does this concept of contextualisation and bundling actually work technically? I can’t visualise it!

A:  Read the HAT Tech Briefing Paper to get a better understanding about how we actually do this on the HAT.


Q: I don’t have any Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices in my home; why would I need a HAT?

A: The HAT is a personal data platform, so it’s for all your personal data out there e.g. your information sitting with your broadband service provider, your Facebook profile, smartphone GPS – these Internet services hold a lot of your personal data which can be acquired by you into your HAT for you to use, analyse, view and help you make better decisions.


Q: What kind of better decisions can I make with the HAT?

 A: Imagine that you have a shopping basket on your HAT where you can place the stuff you wish to buy from a supermarket. There could be a standardised HAT app that could compare the prices of your shopping basket items among different supermarkets on a daily basis (since prices change almost every day), to advise you which supermarket nearest to you would offer the cheapest prices. Or you could have a service on the HAT that recommends clothing based on what you currently have (MATCH) in your wardrobe rather than you having to search for the items yourself. This could save you time and effort. Or you could share your data with a group of friends and based on all your location data, there could be an app to suggest which is the most optimal pub you can all meet at a particular time. The list is endless once you start thinking about it!


Q: Wait, to share my personal data, won’t I lose my privacy?

A: When any of your data on the HAT is shared, it is done through a ‘direct data debit’ (D3) system.This means that your consent must be sought for you to share your data, and then it goes onto your D3 list. You can cancel the share consent whenever you wish (although you might lose the benefits if you don’t share).

Some services (like the HAT ‘RENT DATA’ applications) do not take your data. For instance, if you buy an application or software that helps you visualise and browse your data, the provider of that service will not be able to see your data. It’s like the old days when you install a software on your PC and the software manufacturer sells you the software, but does not collect your data. Of course, where the services NEED (HAT ‘GIVE DATA’ applications) to have your data, you will be informed about the D3 and you would need to consent to sharing your data.  Read the HAT Tech Briefing for further detail on how the D3 system works.


Q: Why would companies be interested in negotiating with me for my HAT data if they can collect so much data from me already?

A: Actually, there isn’t much data about you. Your eating habits, your inventory, what’s in your fridge; these are data that aren’t yet out there. We think you should generate more data but only if you feel safe doing so and only if you think you will benefit from it. If you benefit from your own data and you feel less vulnerable, you could generate much more data to help in your day-to-day decision-making. This data can also help companies innovate and provide services that are more useful to you.

While it is true that companies have access to your personal data that has been collected in vertical structures, they can’t really share your data with anyone else as it is against data protection laws. With your own HAT you are able to play with your own data, ‘liberating’ and ‘flattening’ these vertical data and re-bundling them in more interesting ways which can be also useful for companies. These bundles of data are a much richer contextualised data set compared to the silo-ed data that firms have collected from you. So with the HAT, they can more democratically ask you for data that they don’t have and for more interesting bundles of data that you can share with them so that they can create more personalised products or services for you. As the transformed HAT data is owned by you, the individual, this puts you in a better position to negotiate on how you can share your contextualised HAT data for more personalised services delivered in context to make your life even better. So unlike the “good old ways” of giving our data away for free, the HAT allows us to control how the data is shared and with whom.

For further detail on how all this works, do read the HAT briefing papers on Engineering a Market for Personal Data and the Economic Model of the Multi-Sided Market Platform and Ecosystem.  


Q: Can a company like Google or Apple become a HAT? If so, how would that work, and why would they want to anyway?

A: Any firm could be a HAT Platform Service Provider (HPP) but they must play by the ecosystem rules, regulated by the HAT Data Exchange (HATDeX). That means that the HAT has to be private, confidential and secure, and the HPP must be trusted to ensure that they are compliant to these rules (the HAT Code of Practice). Google could also create a Google app on the HAT but it would be subject to the rules of the HAT ecosystem e.g. any data they take out of the HAT is with your consent, using the D3 system which you can cancel if you choose not to provide consent.


Q: What is the HATDeX?

A:  Think about the HATDeX (HAT Data Exchange Foundation) like a London Stock Exchange, but for data exchanges. The HATDeX is the regulator of the HAT ecosystem – to ensure that the system promotes trust and fair exchanges. It is also the financial regulator of the HAT so that ecosystem players like yourself will get fair benefits for data exchanges. Our blogpost on the HATDeX and HAT Tech Briefing Paper explain further how the HATDeX works in the context of the HAT ecosystem.


Q: What if HAT Platform Providers (HPPs) do not want to follow the rules? Are there HATs that don’t follow the rules?

 A: Yes there are.  You can download for free the HAT database schema which is open-source, and use it to create your own HAT, building applications and bringing data onto it in the comfort of your own home. However, you will not be able to buy or sell HAT apps nor will you be able to share your data with anyone on the HAT ecosystem because you have not received the necessary certification. Only if you are certified by the HATDeX will you be able to participate fully in the HAT’s commercial ecosystem. If, however, you wish to have a HAT just to play or experiment with, by all means do so! We have a big experimental community that constantly helps us improve and there will be a developers forum for experimenters.


Q: What happens if I don’t like my HAT Platform Provider (HPP)?

A: Under the ecosystem rules, you must be able to move all your data from one HPP to another HPP. This functionality may not be immediately available, but it is part of the ecosystem rules and will be provided in time.


Q:What is the technology behind the HAT?

A: The HAT is technology-agnostic! The HAT is just an ontology operationalised into a database schema and a set of outbound and inbound APIs on how data comes in and out of the database. You can build the database schema using different database technologies, secure it with different security systems, and even share it with different types of encryption. The one we have built runs on standard World Wide Web protocols. At some point we hope that the HAT will even be software-agnostic and just become a set of protocols through which the HAT ecosystem can interoperate and thrive!


Q: Are you suggesting that companies will not bother to innovate if they cannot share our personal data? Are we out of other ways to innovate?

A: There are many ways to innovate. But we think that when the HAT is introduced, the innovation could be aligned towards making individual lives better by allowing us to appreciate our own data and to use it for better decisions. We could have better recall, computation and matching services if we have a way to store and use our own data, but we would need companies to help us as they invest in innovation.


Q: How can I get involved with the HAT?

A: You can join us in the revolution to reclaim our personal data through many ways.

First, sign up for your HAT so that you can be among the first in the world to own one. If you are keen to develop new products and services or innovate existing offerings to connect to the HAT, you can join our group of industry project partners and Industry Advisory Board. Find out more through our Engaging with the HAT document.

You can also join our HAT ecosystem as a HAT Developer, a HAT Application Provider (HAP) or a HAT Platform Service Provider (HPP). Find out more about these roles in our HAT Tech Briefing. You can also download the Database Schema and play around with it.

To find out more about these opportunities, get in touch with us or join the HAT Mailing List to be kept updated on the latest on the HAT.


Privacy & Big Data

Q: Does the HAT keep all my data in one place? Where exactly will that data reside?

A: The answer to this question depends on your HAT Service Platform Provider (HPP) and the type of HAT you have. We envision three types of HAT:

  1. Hard Hat: A HAT that is a fixed server with a fixed IP address, for example a smart home hub for home sensors. In this case all of your data would be stored in one location which you can choose to connect to the Internet, or not.
  2. Sun Hat: A HAT that is cloud-based. Potentially, every HAT could sit on a micro-cloud server owned by the individual but hosted by a HAT Platform Service Provider (HPP). In this case your data will be stored in line with similar regulations governing other cloud-based services. This may mean your data will be in a single location, or it may be moved around in order to ensure reliability of access.
  3. Straw Hat: A hybrid of both a fixed and cloud-based HAT. Some HAT data will be stored in a home hub, while other data will be stored in a cloud server.


Q: Is my data and identity protected from my HAT Platform Provider (HPP)?

A: Yes. This is required by the HAT Code of Practice. HPPs are free to choose the technology they use to ensure this.


Q: At the moment my data is widely distributed among multiple services. Are there not inherent risks in creating a single location for all my data, i.e. as a single point of failure or access for hackers?

A: Of course there are risks with any service linked to the Internet. Even password managers are not immune to hackers, but they are still considerably better than reusing easily guessed passwords, or worse the same password for everything. That said, hackers are not usually interested in individuals, instead choosing to focus on large databases which can be accessed from a single point. As each HAT is independent of the others, there is no way for hackers to access all HATs at the same time. This means the effort required to hack an individual HAT account is not really worth it. If you are concerned about the security of your HAT server however, we expect different HAT Platform Service Providers (HPPs) will have different levels of security in place, and you will be free to choose the HPP that best serves your needs.


Q: By giving my data to a HAT Platform Service Provider (HPP), how is this any different to giving it to any other company? Can you ensure they don’t steal or share my data without my consent?

A: The HAT Data Exchange Foundation (HATDeX) is being formed as an independent regulatory body for the HAT. One of its main roles is to Certify and Accredit all HAT Platform Service Providers (HPPs), HAT Application Providers (HAPs) and Apps on the HAT (HAT Apps). Certification requires compliance with certain standards of privacy, confidentiality, security and trust. In this way you can be confident that a certified provider will not steal or share your data without consent. (You can read more about this in the HAT Tech Briefing Paper)


Q: Wouldn’t it be better to get governments to make the sharing of personal data without permission illegal?

A: Unfortunately there seems to be general agreement that information (and hence data) is not actually property. In fact, in 2014 both the British and New Zealand courts ruled that digital data is not property for the purposes of the law. This effectively means that the collector of the data has the right to do whatever they want with it. Thanks to campaigns like the midata vision of consumer empowerment project in the UK, in some countries it is now possible for individuals to demand access to the data they have provided to certain companies. However, at best this means data is shared by the user and the collector. Even assuming governments could be persuaded to change the law, it would require more time and resources than we currently have available to lobby for a change in the law in so many different countries at once. So we thought, why not solve the problem within the way the law currently stands? Why not let each one of us become a collector of data and hence own a copy for ourselves and use it to make our lives better? The companies can still collect their data as they do already, but we can do so much more with a broad range of data sources that only we can access.


Q: If more people become aware of the value of their personal data, is it natural to expect that they may become more concerned about its collection?

A: As you are probably aware, the majority of ‘free’ online services are not really free. Many free apps and websites collect data. This can range from personal data (name, location and so on) to activity data (links clicked on, search terms entered, etc). Sometimes this data is sold to another company, but often it is used to drive targeted advertising (for example with search engines or social media). This second approach is less objectionable for two reasons: first of all, this means the types of advertisements you see are more appropriate to you and hence not only do you find them less annoying but you might actually click on them. Second, it lets the service remain free, which is especially useful when it is uncertain whether it will be successful from the outset. We aren’t saying that sharing our personal data is the only way to innovate, but this is going on already, and without much input from the users as to what happens once it has been collected. It is this issue that we feel needs to be addressed. We are certainly not alone in our concerns over personal data privacy.


Q: If privacy is a concern of mine, why shouldn’t I just use services that don’t collect my personal data such as duckduckgo or Tor?

A: If what you seek is total data anonymity then these sorts of services are fine. However, our arguments against total data anonymity are similar to the arguments against using ad-blockers. Namely that without data driving advertising and other similar models in the digital economy, the ads you do see will be at the very least annoying or inappropriate and at worst actually harmful; services that require an email address for access will start to sell these, increasing spam and/or newsletters in your inbox; and some firms may need to resort to charging for services that used to be free. We at the HAT project don’t object to our data being used to provide free services or for adverts which are less annoying and we might actually click on, but we do object to the loss of control of that data beyond what we believe it should be used for.


Q: How is the HAT relevant to big data?

A: There are over 30 definitions of big data. Some are more appropriate than others for serious discussion, but one good way to define big data, as well as identify some of the many issues with working with big data, are through the ‘4Vs’ (Volume, Variety, Velocity, Veracity). It is generally recognised that the costs associated with data storage are decreasing and computer processing power is increasing. These factors are going some way to dealing with the Volume and Velocity issues respectively. However, what remain are the the issues of Variety and Veracity.

The HAT approaches the issue of Variety by putting the data into context. The HAT takes the data from a specific source, and (with guidance from the user) contextualises the data by giving it the following attributes: Thing (the What), Person (the Who), Location (the Where), and Event (the When). This contextualisation allows disparate data sources to be brought together as Bundles containing all the data with similar attributes. These Bundles can then be analysed in order to make sense of your data or even shared as part of the Direct Data Debit (D3) mechanism. (You can read more about this in the HAT Tech Briefing Paper).

With regards to the issue of Veracity, the HAT is intended to help users make sense of their own data. This means there is little benefit in being untruthful when contextualising their data. This means that, barring user or device error (both of which should be identified pretty quickly), the Veracity of both the collected and contextualised data should be very high.



Q:Why is the project called ‘HAT’?

A: HAT is the acronym for the project –  we academics love acronyms. And this is a big, ambitious project so we wanted a big, ambitious name. So it’s the ‘Hub of ALL Things’ not the ‘Hub of Some Things’. Also, the name underpins a very important fundamental concept. When we are asked ‘what is the hub-of-all-things’, we say that is the wrong question. The question is ‘WHO is the ‘hub-of-all-things’ and we believe the answer is YOU! and we are building the HAT to empower YOU to do this! (Oh, and also, we all like wearing hats) (check out the HAT Chat videos).


Q: How did the HAT come about?

A: The HAT is developed from the Research Councils UK (RCUK) Digital Economy-funded Hub-of-all-Things project (http://hubofallthings.com).  Ideas for the HAT project emerged from various RCUK Digital Economy collaborative projects in the Homework, Cambridge Computer Lab projects and economic and business model research. More information on the concepts and ideas around value, constellations, contexts and markets can be found in the Principal Investigator, Irene Ng’s, book Value and Worth: Creating New Markets in the Digital Economy (available on Amazon as an e-book and in print).


Q: How is the HAT different from other home hub projects?

A: Are there other technologies, hubs or platforms out there? Of course! But there are very few teams of researchers out there who can deliver a complete personal data market eco-system as an outcome of a research project. Most will deliver a technology demonstrator or basic proof of concept, but to build a market requires an understanding of economic and business models in real life with real people, real money, real businesses and real products/services. There is a need to understand value creation, incentives alignment, vulnerabilities of human behaviours, augmentation of the human person, human-data interaction and business models.That’s why we’re different, and as a bonus we also hope to change the world while doing it! Check out this post on how we are different.


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