Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal will be remembered as the tipping point that finally convinced us to take control of our personal data assets. None of us can predict exactly what trajectory this will take over the next few years, but it is already unleashing new forces that will transform markets for our personal digital property.
Last year, Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch argued, in reference to Carpenter v. United States, that cell phone data is personal property and so is protected under the Fourth Amendment. If his stance — that cell phone data is personal property — catches on, we could soon see a market driven fix for many of the data breach issues we’re seeing today.
Specifically, as owners of our phone data, we could restrict how its used and who can access it. And anyone who does use our data should expect to pay us for the privilege. But how are we supposed to negotiate with the giant companies that currently control our digital property?
Consider this: A hundred years ago, small individual investors had a very hard time making investments in securities. Then, in 1924, the first mutual fund was created to amass the power of many small investors. Today the mutual fund industry, led by firms like Fidelity Investments and Vanguard, constitutes the most powerful investment arm in the world, managing over $49 trillion in assets globally.
It’s time to create something similar for digital property called a “digital property fund.” If you’re having trouble wrapping your mind around how this might work, don’t worry. Let’s take a quick trip into the future and see for ourselves. Three years should do it.
A trip to 2022
It’s Monday, January 10, 2022, and you’ve just read an article on these new digital property funds in VentureBeat. The author projected that over 1 billion people globally will have digital property fund accounts by 2025 due to growth in India and some wildly popular integrations with personal digital assistants. You decide it is time to sign up. First, remember, you’re hiring a firm to manage YOUR personal data. So, the first step is to make a contribution of your personal digital property to a fund of your choice.
How do you do this? In current mutual fund lingo, it’s called an “in kind contribution.” In other words, your contribution isn’t money but an assignment of your digital property. You download the app and click on an initial data profile that communicates your preferences to the digital property managers at the fund. You decide to go back later and spend more time configuring preferences, but this will get you started. Wow! It only took nine minutes!
The fund retains a small percentage of all earnings on your digital property as a management fee and passes the balance through to you. An annual report recaps these money flows in detail. This small percentage will exceed $16 billion in 2022 global fee income for the funds.
Now, back to 2019…
Individually we have very little power to manage our digital property. But we don’t have to go it alone. We can hire professional asset managers to represent us in these negotiations. The improvements in AI and machine learning coming over just the next few years means that the value of our digital property is set to increase dramatically. This vast new opportunity is just too big for the financial services industry to pass up, and our data is too valuable to continue to manage it by simply clicking on unread terms of service agreements.
Brian Mulconrey is an advisor to insurtech startup Sureify Labs, a cofounder at Force Diagnostics, and a futurist. He lives in Austin, Texas.