While digital records have been around for decades, it is only relatively recently that we have seen the market responding to the value of personal data as our increasing use of the internet helps us build useful digital identities. Arguably though, we are still in the infancy of these developments and over the course of the next few years the true value of this resource will become understood and potentially reach the status of the most valuable commodity of our age.
To understand the value of the mass of data that is our digital persona, it is worth considering how much of it exists and in how many places it is currently stored.
Right now, many of our daily actions are either occurring digitally, stored digitally or are affected by digital devices or mechanisms. In almost all the things we do, we are creating and leaving a digital trail. More often than not, this digital trail is stored and in almost every case, this is done without knowledge of where it goes or how it may be used in future. From the mobile call we make first thing in the morning, the swipe of our travel card, the purchase of our first coffee of the day, the tweets we read, the ads we view -- every single moment is known, usually stored and often reused in order to predict something else about us or people like us.
Right now, there are a host of changes afoot to try and block or curtail the ability of businesses to capture, monitor, store and use this data. Fear is used as the main fuel -- fear of theft, fear of deception, fear of the unknown of what might happen if… Eventually though, however much the protagonists of fear beat their drum, the voices that will win will be those that want complete ownership of all this information for their own benefit, namely us, the consumers.
We will, of course, want it to be safe and secure, we will want control of it and access to it, to use it when and how we want. Above all, though, we will want it to be useful, because ultimately, most of us are united by an inherent interest in making our lives easier.
It is this driving force of users pulling their own data towards them and being in control of pushing it out to who they choose and when they choose it, that will shape the future of this, the most valuable traded commodity of the future -- our digital self.
Brands will emerge to enable us to make all this happen. All of our data will be able to be contained in one place. We will decide and control who gets it, when they can use it and for what purpose.
What's more, we will treat our digital self with care. We will learn that the more we teach it, the better it becomes at making our lives easier. It will literally become a parallel self that never forgets, never sleeps, always remembers, is always awake and switched on to finding what is right for us right now and stores stuff that may be right for us in the future.
So, as we look at the now, the way in which the brands around us use the data they have, it is useful to consider how limited a view they invariably have of who we are and what we do. Most still rely on looking at the trail we leave behind through our digital behaviour to learn what we may do next. Some are already combining the data gathered in our bricks and mortar existence with that of our digital life to create a fuller picture and doing so with good effect. But even this action (leaving the ethics to one side) is crude in comparison to the true picture of who we truly are.
Thankfully, we are far more complex beings than simply what we buy or do online. We are an immensely rich collection of many parts including experiences, emotions and knowledge. To begin to deliver the serendipity of this digital dimension of the future, systems will need to seamlessly unlock the library of us in order to understand the real essence of who we are. Alex Willcock is founder and CEO of VisualDNA