Digital exhaust royalty: will it solve some of Facebook and Google’s personal data usage travails?

Digital exhaust royalty: will it solve some of Facebook and Google’s personal data usage travails?

The users’ data is being bundled and sold to marketers and the like so that they can do targeted messaging. In fact, I would say companies like Facebook and Google are in the business of monetizing digital exhaust. This brings me back full circle to my original premise – Has the time finally come now “for monetizing the digital exhaust created by individuals so that they can track and receive ‘royalties’ for use of the same by corporations.” Having a well-defined royalty framework can help alleviate privacy concerns. A royalty framework already exists for music, entertainment and publishing industry. Now I am talking about evolving that framework for the digital era where every person is an artiste, their digital exhaust is their music creation and use by another party is akin to the song being played on radio. I think technology and public opinion is evolving to make such a model feasible: Technology Blockchain could emerge as a way of tracking the use of a person’s digital exhaust. What this article proposes for music royalty can very well apply to digital exhaust royalty too: Put simply, the blockchain format can embed all the necessary accounting, usage rights, and creator credit information right into the song file itself. All digital exhaust “transactions” for a person can be tracked in a blockchain ledger and royalty revenues accrue in a crypto-currency like bitcoin. What if in a robotic era, the digital exhaust which we now consider a byproduct becomes the actual product which most humans create. Much needs to happen before a Digital Exhaust Royalty framework becomes a reality.

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I like to make beginning of the year predictions about what technological innovations will come to play in the New Year. Some I get right, but yes, some I do get wrong. One such prediction which did not come to fruition was the one I made in 2015:

‘Pay me or else stay away’

Some capabilities for monetizing the digital exhaust created by individuals will emerge so that they can track and receive “royalties” for use of the same by corporations; and some of their privacy concerns can be mitigated (“pay me if you want to use my location data or online purchase history”)

But now as the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal plays out and with GDPR looming on the near horizon, I think it may finally be time for the idea to come to life.

Users have gotten used to the “free” services which Facebook, Google et al provide. But everyone knows at the back of their mind that given the multi-billion-dollar revenues these companies are generating, nothing is actually free. The users’ data is being bundled and sold to marketers and the like so that they can do targeted messaging. The data is as likely to be used by a product marketer for targeted ad placement as it is by a political party for focused political messaging.

The core item at play is our “digital exhaust”. McKinsey in 2013 had talked about organizations mining “exhaust data” (Competing in a digital world: Four lessons from the software industry):

In addition to creating new revenue streams by amping up traditional product and service offerings, organizations have been mining “exhaust data”—information that is a by-product of normal business operations—for use in developing new products. Such by-products, for instance, allow credit-card companies to monetize transactional data from cardholders by analyzing and selling these data to merchants.

But since then the exhaust has amplified. All our actions are generating “digital exhaust”: every credit card swipe, every click of a smart television remote, every google search, highway cameras, phone records, medical history, social media likes, every purchase transaction etc. All these are available for companies to bundle and market to the highest bidder.

In fact, I would say companies like Facebook and Google are in the business of monetizing digital exhaust. And that’s not a bad business to be in per se. They figured out a way of monetizing something and providing…

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