Dave Beach spoke to Pavol Magic, CEO of Biotron.io about the challenges and opportunities of the data market. Biotron.io is a user-permissioned and revenue sharing personal data warehouse benefiting from blockchain transparency to provide the most accurate user analytics, helping organizations make timely and correct decisions.
What is your data background?
My colleagues Peter and Martin worked for DECENT, which is a blockchain company here in Slovakia. Peter became interested in health data and how it could be employed to improve the lives of people worldwide. He got together with Martin and they started thinking about using blockchain for data purposes and how they could make use of blockchain in the data marketplace structure.
At that time, I was working for Sygic, which provides location data services primarily for navigation and mapping. My role was to find new streams of revenue and how we could cross-utilise the datasets we collected, for instance, in real-time traffic updates.
During my time at Sygic, I saw that there was a lot of obscurity in the market because you have huge datasets with billions of entries. You can either license those raw datasets or you can collate and sell your own data product; in Sygic’s case, the real-time traffic updates. When you opt for the first option, you essentially transfer control and there’s very little you can do if they wish to pass on that information; I simply wasn’t comfortable with that or where the market was heading. On top of that, location data companies could find ways around users who did not explicitly consent to sharing their location; usually from an estimate provided by cell phone towers and WiFi networks.
Surely regulation has a thing or two to say about that?
Even though GDPR is coming and calling for better control and transparency on the data market, legislation until now has been playing catch up with the technology. Given that Biotron.io is already GDPR compliant, we want to be more proactive where we provide our users more control over their data, as well as providing greater visibility into where their data flows.
If we’re successful we’ll make the shady practices of consent-bending obsolete.
The key phrase is transparency. The common user is quite unaware of the amount of data that can be collected in different ways, and we should be bringing it to their attention and educating them. If someone has control over your location or other such data, you should at least understand what that means to some extent.
I’m not building a conspiracy here; for the vast majority of companies they don’t keep personal details attached to metadata anyway because it’s too time and cost intensive. But, out of principle, people should be more aware of the data that is being collected on them - not necessarily because it is intrusive, but data collection should be better understood as a topic.
This is data that we need to collect as well because it is the fuel for innovation and can genuinely improve lives. I think we need to have untapped access to data. Facebook and Alphabet have huge data silos and they release partial data. Complete, unrestricted data has huge potential and that’s one of our goals at Biotron.io.
How will Biotron.io look to do this?
The first phase will look to collect location intelligence, so anonymised cell phone data as well as web browsers and smart watches. Based on these datasets you can create a user profile that is anonymised - we don’t know who that person is for the reason I mentioned before. When you have good coverage in a specific market you can create custom analytics for retail chains. For instance, you might want to know what sort of customer comes to your store.
There are two incentives for the user harvesting their data. Firstly, there’s the monetary value, which might anywhere from a hundred dollars a year to thousands, dependent on the sale of data and the quality of that data.
The second incentive is the innovation that their data will power and that might grant them better services, such as traffic information or the public transport network. In the far off future, we’d like to be contributing permissioned health data to advance scientific developments and cures; datasets on that scope and scale can offer real insight that trialled tests cannot.
How do you ensure the quality of the data you collect?
Firstly, we’ll survey to verify that users are providing the correct data and that the profiles are accurate. If these profiles are as accurate as possible we can then apply some logic to see how our dataset is skewed (or biased) compared to overall demographics of a retail sector and based on that we can extrapolate on total population. It certainly won’t be simple, far from it, but it is doable and the results will be massive.
This is an ongoing process for us and, as with any company, will be refined by use cases. Until those use cases reveal the ‘answers insight’ that our clients ideally want we can then go about asking the right ‘questions’ by setting up the infrastructure and improving the model, analytics and segmentation.
How will this new model to data collection affect finance?
PSD2 is a great opportunity for Biotron.io as we will now be able to collect financial data as well, which again, is invaluable intelligence for retail. PSD2 also helps break up any monopolies on data silos, helping third parties provide richer and more innovative services and products.
Away from retail, you have hedge funds compiling collected data and satellite imagery to build composite images of market trends - i.e. you can predict how Tesco or Walmart might evolve based on the traffic into their stores. There’s also real opportunity for B2B supply chains if you begin compiling freight ship reports and using clever methods to estimate number of cargo and, similarly, the financial wellbeing of companies.