From your movie preferences to your favourite takeaway, the amount of personal data floating about the worldwide web is staggering. And it’ll come as little surprise that most of it is in the hands of tech giants like Google, Meta and Amazon. We’re all quick to accept cookies on a website and enjoy everything our favourite social media have to offer, but as the saying goes ‘nothing in life is free’.
The data collected is used to feed algorithms that suggest personalised content such as playlists and the latest must-have sneaker, the best route to avoid traffic on your way home and much, much more. Which is great, but in using all these ‘free’ services, we have given American tech companies a lot of control over our personal data. Too much control, argue the leading media companies behind the Dutch Data Vault Foundation.
Taking Back Control
In their joint innovation agenda for the media industry, DPG Media, Mediahuis, NPO, RTL, and Talpa Network, have made data a key focal point. Their for non profit initiative believes that personal and user data should be held in a personal user environment, aiming to turn the system inside out with their application for a €50 million research & development subsidy from the National Growth Fund.
Their proposal? To give users full control over their data by storing it in Data Vault by building a neutral data facilitator. These PODS, or Personal Online Data Stores, were first dreamed up by Tim Berners-Lee who also invented the worldwide web. Instead of leaving your data in the hands of Big Tech, Data PODS let you decide what information you want to share when, with whom and for how long.
“The data vault gives users back control over their own data,” explains Martijn van Dam, Dutch Data Vault Foundation Board Member. “For me, the development of a new data infrastructure in which privacy is restored is a very exciting challenge that ties in with my longstanding commitment to digital innovation as well as privacy protection. This is a great innovation for the digital world. Dutch public and commercial organisations can benefit from it and become less dependent on the big tech companies.”
Healthy Digital Environment
Because these PODS can store all manner of data, the applications are as extensive as the worldwide web itself. Similar initiatives have already been introduced in different countries but have lacked the broad base needed to ensure widespread adoption of this technology. The support of the media sector might just provide the push PODS need to achieve lift off.
Partnerships are crucial according to the Foundation, and the hope is that all sorts of organisations, including startups, will contribute by testing the many aspects and potential applications. A key partnership is with the Flemish government in Belgium, where diplomas are now stored in a personal environment as a testcase.
More importantly, internet users’ data is used to feed the algorithms that suggest the content we see. And wrongly programmed algorithms can create filter bubbles and spread disinformation with far-reaching effects, as well as polarising society. “The internet has been monopolised by Big Tech.” concludes van Dam. “The time is right to give it our best effort to turn this around.”