I was first introduced to the concept of a personal data locker after discovering The Locker Project by Jeremie Miller (@jeremie). For some of us activist oriented technologists, who live in a Silicon Valley driven world where data is the new oil, a personal data locker that allows us to store, and reclaim our personal data is essential.
I personally feel that educated individuals, who understand the importance of owning the digital content they generate online, and have a personal data store to put this content into, will be essential to a healthy economy in the future. Without this, just a small percentage of primarily rich, white folks will be successful with technology companies, generating huge revenue on the backs of the average individual.
It doesn’t matter where a personal data locker exists, it can be locally on a computer, in the cloud on existing platforms like Dropbox, Amazon, Google, or even the Raspberry Pi in your closet. The only thing that matters is that it is somewhere the individual is in control of, and these individuals are also literate in the how and why of being in control of their digital self.
Unfortunately projects like the Locker Project haven’t seen the adoption we need to bring the concept of personal data lockers into the mainstream consciousness. As of 2014, the masses are pretty comfortable just storing their digital content on whichever platform it was generated, and only the tech savviest reclaim their photos, videos, messages and other valuable content, and store within their own domain.
Tech companies are not interested in giving you control over your data. Facebook, Twitter, Google and the other platforms you use, generate revenue from your personal information, location, relationships, photos, videos and other activities. Personal data lockers will not come from these tech companies, who have venture capital—sorry.
After attending a two day meeting, hammering out a standard around energy data and APIs for the Green Button initiative, the concept of giving consumers acces to their data is front and center in my consciousness. Green Button is a federal government initiative that is looking to get ALL the utility companies across the US to provide usage data for power, water and gas to their consumers.
In addition to the Green Button initiative, there is Blue Button from Department of Veteran Affairs and Health and Human Services, looking to get the average citizen, as well as veterans their health data. There is also movement from the IRS to provide transcripts of your tax history, and from the Department of Education to get you your education data via the MyData Button.
Providing users access to their critical data via Green Button, Blue Button, IRS, and Dept of Ed, represent an opportunity to move data ownership into the mainstream consciousness. Even as exciting as this is, it is clearly at odds with the current online reality, where tech companies aren’t interested in an educated, data savvy consumer. Also we don’t have enough access and availability to personal data lockers for the average individual and businesses to put their energy, health, financial and education data into–all of which concerns me.
I’m not ignorant to how much work it will be to move the concept of data ownership and stewardship into the mainstream, especially when the federal government is involved, and the private sector is currently experiencing a boom in companies who generate revenue from exploiting users data. Even with these challenges, I’m optimistic that we can leverage the open data efforts of the federal government, into opportunities to make users aware of the importance of the personal data locker, as well as incentivize the deployment of more open source, and proprietary cloud personal data lockers.