What is the “API of Me”?
When you think about browsing the web on your computer, tablet, or mobile device, you undoubtedly think about the ads presented to you, the information stored by companies whose websites you visit, and the other information they might know about you. If you are are particularly privacy-conscious, you make take additional measures to mitigate the tracking and categorizing of your online activity, or “digital exhaust” in addition to the explicit places you visit.
This tracking presents opportunities and disadvantages for all consumers, and particular benefit or detriment depending upon the consumer involved. If you are a frequent visitor to an outdoor products site that sells skiing equipment and you also visit a ski resort web site, you might not mind seeing an advertisement or a special offer to purchase sporting equipment. If you research a mental health issue that you didn’t wish to share with others, you might be shocked to see relevant content to your search show up in your search results on Facebook. Yet both of those scenarios are technologically possible and increasingly in use as you peruse the Internet from many sources. Add to that data the ability to provide additional context from when and where you view these sites, and retailers and others alike already have deep information stores with which to present us with information.
Is there a way to shape the ads you see and protect your data?
So how can you – the “typical” consumer who would like to get more relevant information while maintaining the privacy and security of your information appropriate to your comfort level – regulate what these companies know about you? Some of this information is regulated (the degree to which your wireless provider can track your movements and share data with advertisers) and a lot of this information – especially that which can be correlated and presented using the techniques of “big data” – is much fuzzier.
I believe that we as consumers have a right to control the data we share about and between the services and products we use, and that the economic benefit of using and sharing that information by companies should be more transparent. “The API of Me” is the name I’d like to propose for a system of capturing, sharing, and limiting information about consumers that presupposes the following ideas:
- The current online identity system is hopelessly fragmented and controlled by companies, not consumers.
- Customers and browsers (people who consume media and do not purchase) have a right to know how their information is being used.
- Companies have a right to make money off of this consumption and have a moral obligation to share with customers how their data is being used to make money.
- A system should exist to allow customers to make their preferences known that allows the customer to maintain the repository of choices and information and to provide some, all, or none of that information to companies who ask; the system should also respond similarly whether there is an account or not.
- We all need a service that can expand our existing electronic identity to other future uses and to allow those future uses to learn more about us and to provide better service, more utility, and societal good while minimizing the possibility of “bad actors” to make inappropriate use of that information.
- This idea needs to support an elegant, multi-factor authentication solution that’s as simple as possible, and no simpler.
And why would anyone use this idea?
Why would customers use The API of Me? There are more and more identity services in use today, and as they cross-reference the items we search, our movements, and the items we consume/read/watch, it’s more important than ever to have the ability to selectively publish information without being overwhelmed by a complicated array of privacy controls (have you looked at your Facebook privacy settings recently?)
Some would say that we shouldn’t have such a comprehensive source for individual information because of the danger of having it compromised when the inevitable lousy passwords are used by people who can’t be bothered to secure their personal data locker. Yet the increasing ubiquity of Facebook, Google, and Twitter-based identity systems make it more and more likely that this is a danger anyway. I’m proposing that some smart people determine a well-designed way for the 80% of us who care and want to solve this problem to be able to do so and gain more control over our data.
And why would businesses care about the API of Me? Consumers are social beings who want to have relationships with the businesses they use. They may not actually want to be contacted by those businesses, but they do want to know how and why their information is being used, and some of them even want to have the option of being paid for the use of this information. Businesses can use this knowledge to open up whole new personalized markets that don’t exist today, and better avoid alienating customers who really want to opt out.
The Future: Personal Data and Micro-segmentation
Right, you say, what if everyone opts out? But they won’t. Businesses built more like the Apple App Store, the Zappos shoe-buying experience, the Amazon online store, and the Nordstrom clothing business will thrive with better, more data-driven relationships with customers. And lower-end, logistics-savvy companies like Wal*Mart are already using Big Data in the aggregate to deliver diapers, beer, and other necessities to communities in advance of a forecasted weather event.
The future of micro-segmentation depends upon the consumer being able to self-segment. And whether that desire is to provide as much information as possible in exchange for payment or to opt-out completely, The API of Me gives consumers the ability to specify what data they will share and how they will share it, and companies a reliable near-infinite segmentation that they can use to better serve customers and open new markets.