In today’s digital era driven by social media and online experiences, marketers are constantly collecting massive amounts of data in real-time.
Whether tracking what you post, like, and share with your network; or tracing what device you’re using, credit card you spend with, and city you purchase from — companies are on a chase to capture your personal data in effort to promote and sell products.
Yet, in the current climate, companies are developing their own internal marketing clouds to gather insights into their target audiences. Consequently, the findings are limited, locked out of the analytics of consumers outside of their specific sample pool. More than resulting in data loss, this method also feeds a predatory system where companies and government entities can use personal data for business interests without their consent. Noticing the need to offer everyday people a secure and enterprising tool to take control of their data, one startup emerged to shift the paradigm.
Founded in 2009, Digi.me is a personal data collection company that equips consumers with the tools to take ownership of their digital footprint, enabling users to collect and share the information directly with companies on their own terms. The startup stands as a leader in an evolving space known as the ‘Internet of Me’, which refers to the theory of placing complete control of personal data back into the hands of the people. Once users reclaim control of their data, they are empowered to set their own price or barrier to access.
Having no control over who collects and uses your personal data commonly leads to consumers losing big in the current data environment, while also being blindly exploited. Digi.me has developed technology that allows users to download and store all of their online data. The data is stored natively on an individual’s device, blocking third parties from being able to access the information.
The company has raised $10.6 million to date, receiving $7 million from two rounds of funding in 2016. Digi.me also serves as a distribution partner to global powers like Toshiba and Lenovo, in addition to working with international leaders in health insurance, finance, pharmaceutical industries.
I spoke with Founder and CEO Julian Ranger about the vision behind his business, disrupting the data industry, and his plans to help online users capitalize on their digital activity.
What was the specific void or opportunity that you discovered inspired the idea for Digi.me?
Julian Ranger: I heard about a friend of a friend who had just lost three years’ worth of Facebook interactions after a glitch while changing passwords, which consequently wiped his account. Realizing how devastating this could be, and seeing that there was nothing out there to help people back up their social media, I decided to create an app that did just that. Digi.me allows you to save your data, such as the pictures you’ve posted to your social media accounts, search them, and see the original comments and likes. You can also make your own collections of content and export what you want. You can see your most popular posts and followers, in addition to much more. To ensure privacy, we also decided early on to store the data locally on the user’s own device, building a viewer that normalized and aggregated the data.
Big data is still the primary focus for marketers in today’s digital era — How has the big data rush evolved and where do you see marketers taking it next?
Julian Ranger: Every industry has joined the data rush for their own benefit, without stopping to think that every data point created on the internet is a piece of someone’s life. That means the data ultimately belongs to them. As part of this rush, data mining has evolved beyond what users are happy with. We’re constantly tracked across the web with ads, and the data that we create or share is taken without our consent. Further, that data is sold, causing hundreds of millions of ordinary people to use ad blockers in frustration at the toll this takes on their privacy. However, even with all this tracking, the data that businesses get aren’t quality insights. The data only represents a thin slice of us, and is often inaccurate by 30-50%. Regulations have also evolved with this big data rush. For example, the General Data Protection Regulation in the EU, which gives far greater protection to individuals and their privacy, will reduce the quality of data even further for businesses. It makes sense for businesses to go direct to consumer for data, because the individual has the most complete and accurate data about themselves. We call this “Rich Data”. By asking the individual directly, a business can access data that is broader in scope, 100% accurate and provided with explicit consent. This opens avenues for the use of personal data beyond marketing and advertising, revolutionizing areas such as health, finance, IT and more.
Describe your specific business model and what separates Digi.me from other data mining companies?
Julian Ranger: We are not a company that makes money from data, as most would understand by the term data company. Our mission is to empower individuals by giving their personal data back to them. Once they have acquired it using our app, they can store it in a secure and private library of their choice. Then, we enable them to share slices of that data with companies, if they choose, for a value exchange which may be for service, convenience or for reward. We make no money from data. In fact, we never see, touch, nor hold any user data — ever. Our business model is taking cents per transaction from businesses when individuals agree to share their data with companies under our consent access process.
Why do you believe we haven’t seen a service such as this in the space and how can consumers take advantage of the data mined by other marketers?
Julian Ranger: Data obtained under the current data mining process is deeply flawed. As well as being taken without consent, although not illegally, it is incomplete, stale, and often inaccurate. Businesses know that, they just don’t have a better solution, and they rely on what data they can access to help make decisions regarding services and developing products. Everyone benefits with our software. It’s a true win-win when complete and accurate data is given with consent. Individuals get something in return, and businesses get reliable data they can use to operate with full confidence.
In an era of social entrepreneurship and enterprising — How important is it for both entrepreneurs and everyday consumers to own their personal data?
Julian Ranger: It’s important for all of us to own our own data. It is literally our lives, and we can have greater personal insight from having it all in one place, and have the control to share this data on our terms. It has great potential, from individual businesses to general health innovations that stand to benefit us all. For creators and entrepreneurs, the opportunities this offers for developing new services and apps is limitless. 97% of the case studies we’ve seen suggest our model is built perfectly for creators with completely new ideas.
What opportunities are commonly missed by not having access to your data or behavioral trends?
Julian Ranger: You commonly see missed opportunity in the areas of health and finance. Think how much bureaucracy could be reduced, as well as personal stress, if all the people dealing with our medical issues could access and update our records instantly — rather than constantly faxing each other, or sending letters that often go missing. Financially, our health insurance providers, who want us to stay well, could offer tips or advice based on our specific medical history, diet and wearables data. From there, our banks would in turn have the information they need to instantly provide an accurate quote or calculate a proper loan amount.
There have been more conversations around the culture of me — individuals being able to build business rooted in their personal interests — Describe the theory behind Internet of Me and how people should understand the concept?
Julian Ranger: Fundamentally, the Internet of Me describes a people-centered world where individuals are at the core of their own digital lives. In addition, they are controlling their own data and what happens to it. They not only take back control of their data, but stand to benefit from it in ways they do not currently. Also, as described above, we all benefit from the ground-breaking products that spring from innovation when data is not only accurate, but shared with complete consent. basis.
How will a company like Digi.me shape the future for individuals looking to build scalable mobile businesses?
Julian Ranger: We see ourselves as the base layer, or wiring, of the Internet of Me. In the next few months, as we open the Consent Access part of Digi.me, and become a personal data platform, you will start to see a lot of third-party apps built on our platform. Those third-party apps will work directly with individuals sharing value between both sides of the transaction, with Digi.me simply acting as the connective wiring between both parties. We will create an ecosystem that encourages new and inventive uses of data, for individual benefit and always used with consent.
How do you see both the space and your company evolving and what added features will digi.me be rolling out in the future?
Julian Ranger: The personal data economy is evolving rapidly as individuals become more aware about online privacy and what is happening to their personal data online. This will escalate as individuals become aware of the power of owning their data for themselves, both for personal benefit and for sharing socially at their discretion. In 2017, you will see initial businesses building on the Digi.me platform showing the power of the Internet of Me in diverse areas such as health, finance, telecommunications and consumer goods. With these examples, we expect that the overall Internet of Me ecosystem, powered by Digi.me and others, will accelerate rapidly in 2018.
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