Monthly Archives: March 2012

It’s Raining Data and Privacy: A Look Back at SXSW

A deluge of rain welcomed the Personal team to Austin two weeks ago today. Armed with company swag and a passion for spreading the word about small data and our product, we went to battle with the weather.

As it turned out, SXSW Interactive was raining more than precipitation. Sessions and panels on data and privacy seemed to drop from the sky and made a splash, despite all the buzz around ‘ambient social’ apps. (Observation: these apps were probably the culprits behind draining smartphone power and subsequent hours wasted on searching for power outlets to recharge them.)

But I digress.

Here’s a quick look at a handful of the privacy- and data-related sessions that piqued our interest, including two led by our very own Shane Green and Tarik Kurspahic.

We the People: Creating a Consumer’s Bill of Rights

Placecast’s Anne Bezancon and Personal’s Shane Green teamed up to moderate a lively discussion surrounding the need for a Digital Bill of Rights “by the people, for the people”. The proposed rights, which apply to the “sanctity of the digital self,” are now available for public comment on We welcome and look forward to your feedback.

Data is the New Oil: Wealth and Wars on the Web

Data experts from and MIT Media Lab explored personal data as a new resource with multi-billion dollar implications for our data-dependent world. To avoid the breakout of a war on data, they said, we need to create and raise awareness of a new user-centric ecosystem around the asset of personal data.

Sex, Lies and Cookies: Web Privacy EXPOSED!

Privacy experts from the FTC, the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research, Carnegie Mellon and TechFreedom discussed the central question: “How do we define ‘tracking’ and to what extent is it permissible?” Opinions ranged from staunch opposition to all forms of tracking to the belief that any sort of Internet regulation is impermissible.

The main takeaway? Because it’s going to be difficult, if not impossible, to reach a consensus on the definition and acceptability of “tracking”, creating tools that empower individuals to better control and monitor their privacy is all the more essential.

Big Data: Privacy Threat or Business Model?

How can we protect ourselves, without overreacting, in the age of data abundance? Can we trust the market to deliver the appropriate controls and user education, or do we need regulatory intervention? These were the tough questions that representatives of the ACLU, EPIC and CNET debated, with the majority agreeing that more transparency is needed of companies that aggregate and analyze big data.

How to Build Privacy by Design into Web and Mobile

Personal’s Tarik Kurspahic provided insight on building privacy and security into every aspect of a company – and why companies should be motivated to do so, despite the challenges posed for small teams with limited resources. One message that resonated with the audience was that every employee in a Privacy by Design organization needs to think and act like a Chief Privacy and Chief Security Officer.

We encourage you to check out Tarik’s presentation on SlideShare.

Based on the volume of conversations around privacy and data–at SXSW and beyond–we predict that 2012 will increasingly favor companies that 1) adhere to transparent data practices and 2) shift toward a user-centric model that puts individuals in control of their privacy and data.

Get Personal with us at SXSW

The Personal Team will be out in full force at SXSW Interactive this year. In addition to holding sessions to create a people’s digital bill of rights and share our insights on building a company that follows “privacy by design” principles (details below), we’re here to spread the word about small data.

What is small data?

Small data is big data for individuals. It puts the power and tools of big data, which is geared toward the needs of companies and governments, and not individuals, into the hands of people.

While some say that data is the new oil, we at Personal believe that small data is the new oil.

Learn more about small data >>

Discover #smalldata on Twitter >>

If you spot one of us at SXSW (our t-shirts will give us away), please say hi!

Join us at SXSW

Personal’s CEO Shane Green and CTO Tarik Kurspahic will represent the company at the following sessions on Sunday, March 11. We hope to see you there!

We the People: Creating a Consumer’s Bill of Rights

Date: March 11, 2012 at 11:00 a.m. CT

Location: InterContinental Stephen F. Austin Hotel, Assembly Room

Co-Facilitators: Shane Green, co-founder & CEO, Personal; Anne Bezancon, founder & President, Placecast

Join the #mydatarights conversation >>

How to Build Privacy by Design into Web and Mobile

Date: March 11, 2012 at 12:30 p.m. CT

Location: Hyatt Regency Austin, Texas Ballroom 4-7

Speaker: Tarik Kurspahic, CTO, Personal

Join the #privacy360 conversation >>


Your Personal guide to Austin

As you plan your time at SXSW, we thought we’d offer up these handcrafted Gems of information about Austin essentials, brought to you by Personal.

Learn more about Gems >>

Note: To view this information, you must be logged in to your Personal account.

Austin 6th Street Bars

Indie Austin Coffee Shops

Austin Taxi Companies

Austin BBQ

Downtown Austin Food Carts

Austin Live Music Venues

For real-time updates and tips throughout SXSW, follow us on Twitter. We look forward to getting Personal with you!

Comments Off

The Era of Small Data Begins

This is the first post in a series on the rise of small data* and the new platforms, tools and rules to empower people with their data. It was written for “The Rise of Big Data” panel at the Stanford Graduate School of Business E-Conference on March 6, 2012.

Big data is big business

More data is created every year or so than has been created in all of human history. In this always-on, always-connected world, where even things are being plugged into the Web, the amount of data is growing exponentially.

The collection, storage, analysis, use and monetization of all that data is called “big data.” Corporations and governments are hyper-focused on becoming big data experts to avoid being permanently left behind. The first movers to master the art and science of big data are already changing the way we live, while disrupting industries and amassing fortunes at speeds never before seen.

Given the stakes, massive investments are being made every year to build the technology and expertise required to succeed in big data, optimized, of course, around the needs of companies and governments, not individuals. Industry experts have likened this big data boom to the early days of “big oil,” and refer to data as the “new oil.” Just as oil was essential to building the modern industrial economy, data has become the lifeblood of the new digital economy.

Companies must learn to compete in big data regardless of their industry, or else face obsolescence. This is a tough challenge and touches all aspects of the operations, strategy and culture of companies. At the same time, opportunities abound as entirely new industries are emerging around data as they did around oil — sourcing, extracting, refining, mining, analyzing, distributing, and selling large sets of data.

Big data creates big problems

With its insatiable appetite for digital bits and bytes on each of us, big data is driving a virtual arms race to capture and exploit information about our every move. Big data will log the life of a child born in 2012 in such a way that the person’s activities will be able to be reconstructed not just by the day, but by the hour or minute. In the hands of bad actors, the potential for wrongdoing with these permanent and growing archives of our lives is real and rightfully concerning.

Yet, until recently, people had virtually no idea of big data’s existence as its tools and marketplaces remained largely hidden. The next generation of tracking and data mining technologies are being created based on the assumption that individuals do not care enough to change their online and mobile behavior, which confuses lack of interest with the current lack of alternatives.

But with privacy and security concerns now front-page news, and the financial triumphs of companies built entirely from personal data such as Facebook, Google and LinkedIn, people are waking up and starting to ask tough questions. While companies and government regulators negotiate over how to curb the most egregious risks and abuses, a new and more powerful model is emerging that is designed around the needs and interests of people, providing them a far better, more sustainable alternative to the status quo.

Enter small data

Small data puts the power and tools of big data into the hands of people. It is based on the assumption that people have a significant long-term competitive advantage over companies and governments at aggregating and curating the best and most complete set of structured, machine-readable data about themselves and their lives – the “golden copy”. With proper tools, protections and incentives, small data allows each person to become the ultimate gatekeeper and beneficiary of their own data.

Built on privacy by design and security by design principles, small data can help people become smarter, healthier, and make better, faster decisions. It can help people discover new experiences more easily, reclaim time in their busy lives, and enjoy deeper, more positive relationships with others.

Small data can also greatly improve the capacity and performance of governments and non-governmental institutions, from eliminating time-consuming forms and other inefficient data practices, to improving public health and education by leveraging the power of more accurate and complete data provided with an individual’s permission. Such institutions can also help share important data with individuals, allowing them to have a copy for their own use.

Applied to commerce, small data holds the promise of connecting people with the best and most relevant products and services in a safe and anonymous environment. It can transform advertising into a more respectful, less disruptive industry that rewards people for their time and engagement with their messages and for their purchases. Small data offers customers the opportunity to better balance and assert their interests with companies (some have called this model Vendor Relationship Management (VRM)). Companies who play by these new rules and earn the trust of individuals will be rewarded with access to rich and robust data otherwise unavailable, giving them instant competitive advantages over companies who choose to go it alone.

The first small data platform – a data vault, private network and apps

Personal has spent over two years designing, building and launching the first scalable small data platform. At its core is a secure data vault to aggregate and store structured and unstructured data from just about any source. A private, personal network sits on top to set permissions for data to enter or exit the vault. People are able to connect with other people through the network, and soon with companies, apps, and private or public institutions, and decide which, if any, of their data they are willing to grant them permission to access.

We have put equal weight on privacy and security, and on helping people leverage their own data in exciting, new ways. These concepts are inextricably linked in small data, which requires a high degree of trust to function properly. Similarly, we have rewritten the legal rules of data ownership to protect and empower users, who we call owners. And, because we know relationships can sometimes end, we have built what we believe is the most complete data portability and deletion capabilities in a data platform. Trust doesn’t work unless you are truly free to leave.

In addition to launching our own apps in the coming months, we are inviting developers to apply for early access to build apps on our platform to show off the power and benefits of small data. Individuals have never imagined the magic of running apps on reusable, structured data about the most important things in their lives, while developers have never assumed having access to such high quality data on which to innovate. The possibilities are limitless.

We are excited to help usher in this new era where permission, transparency and privacy become the norm, and where companies and governments have to align around new rules and provide clear and compelling benefits in order to earn access.

At Personal, we see the future through the lens of small data — and we think it will change everything.

*I first heard the term “small data” in a talk by Jeremie Miller, co-founder of Singly, at the Web 2.0 Summit in November 2011, and it’s one that stuck with me. Doc Searls included a passage from the talk in his new book, The Intention Economy (Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2012), p. 196:

You need to have a home for your data. I’m trying aggressively to define this home, in… the best software, the best technology, the best legal terms. This home is yours — that you own, that you control. And this home is for your data.

This ability for you to have it and share it out, is going to transform our industry, over the next ten years. There is going to be this tectonic shift, as everything sort of re-shapes and re-centers itself around people, around individuals, and around the mountains of data that they have… Everybody talks about ‘big data.’ This isn’t big data. This is going to be the era of small data, of my data.


By Shane Green in Power Shift