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Dublin: 10°C Wednesday 17 August 2022

Would you let your fridge do the Big Shop for you? The future of your personal data

Or would you sell your personal information to the highest bidder? (If you haven’t already.)

Thanks to data, you may never end up in this situation again.
Thanks to data, you may never end up in this situation again.

The way we live is changing fast. Every fortnight in our Future Focus series, supported by Volkswagen, we’ll look at how one aspect of everyday life could change in the coming years. This week: data, big and small.

AS THE RELATIVELY recent saying goes, if you’re getting something for free, you’re the product.

Online and offline, our data has become a currency which we exchange for the use of Facebook, swap for discount cards at shops, and share so that we can benefit from the websites we visit. While GDPR, which comes into effect next week, will play a huge role in how our data is collected, stored and processed from now on, it won’t change the fact that our data is collected, stored and processed.

What will change moving forward is that data is going to be used differently and for a huge variety of reasons – and it will have an even bigger impact on our jobs, our health, our transport and our day to day lives.

The data economy is worth an estimated €9.6 billion to the Irish economy every year, according to a report commissioned by Digital Realty, and yet we’re only tapping into half of its potential. “The three main drivers for revenue and employment were manufacturing, financial services and ICT,” says Valerie Walsh, VP at Digital Realty. “ICT was probably the most obvious one. We have plenty of global tech firms in Dublin and Ireland is very proud of our ICT industry.”

Huge amounts of data are collected about us already, but there’s even more still to be done – it won’t just be the jacket you looked at last week on Amazon following you around the Internet. If Big Brother is the first thing jumping to your mind, thankfully Orwell’s 1984 still seems to be some time away, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be big changes. Where anonymous data is collected and shared, there will be benefits to us and as more businesses gather more data, the products and services they deliver will improve and become more personalised.

Think of your smart fridge being able to tell you when your milk is going off, or ordering your weekly shopping in when you’re out – whichever action it has the data on that you prefer. And where data gathered by organisations is anonymised and made open source, even more benefits can be felt.

“Transport for London saved 58 million pounds by having an open data policy,” says Walsh. “If someone had an open data policy on, say, the Luas line as a small example, that could help every company from A-Z along the Luas line know what times they’re going to be busy, understand what types of people are going to be coming by, that, say, 60% of people who come their direction between 4 and 6 in the evening are older people, [and they can ask] how am I going to make my business more likely to succeed there?

“There are so many little things that could make such a huge difference, especially to smaller companies in Ireland who wouldn’t ordinarily have had the data or IT.”

Will your bed talk to your kettle?

But where will all this data be coming from? Everything, is the answer. The Internet of Things, the term used to describe internet-connected objects in our everyday lives, will allow the collection of reams of data we never knew warranted collecting. If your kettle collects data on the times of day you boil it for a cup of tea, it could be wired so that it’s sitting with water boiled for you at the usual time you come into the kitchen.

And if you’re late getting up in the morning, the sensors on the side of your bed could “talk” to your kettle to tell it let that you won’t be there for another few minutes, and not to boil yet.

The possibilities could be endless, ranging from the mundanity of getting up in the morning to huge, multinational projects – the power of big data.

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Take the Human Genome Project. Completed after 13 years’ work in 2003, the project mapped the human genome for the first time. As our ability to analyse huge data sets improves, research of large data sets similar to the Human Genome Project will be able to be undertaken much more quickly, to find results and patterns that human minds simply don’t have the processing power to recognise.

There are already examples today, such as Ava, a Swiss start-up which uses the Ava bracelet and big data to detect when a woman is fertile. The bracelet sensors measure 3 million data points every night.

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Big data analysis and machine learning could lead to leaps forward not only in health, but across all industries. Domo’s Data Never Sleeps report showed between 2015 and 2017, 2.5 quintillion bytes of online data were created per day – or 90% of all online data. If even a tiny portion was collated and analysed, what could we find?

Personal data management and security, as we have already seen with the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, will become even more vital as the role of data expands. If you want to make your own money from your data rather than giving it to Facebook, there has been plenty of debate about the potential to monetise your data by keeping what you want private, and selling the rest to turn a profit. Datawallet and Datacoup have business models which buy your data from you and then sell it on to other organisations. Although the money to be made from selling your data on websites is small at the moment (Datacoup will make you around $10 a month and is currently only available in the US), the value of personal data is set to rise and might make you a better income in the years to come.

As the value and the amount of data we create continues to rise, so too is its importance in our day to day lives. With GDPR just around the corner, it’s hoped that the huge amounts of data we provide (knowingly or otherwise) to various organisations will be responsibly and securely put to good use to improve services and research.

“Ultimately data is almost like electricity at this point. Data is going to become a basic need,” says Walsh. “It’s just starting, people are taking on analytics, but as it starts to get more into the consumer’s day to day life (and it’s there a lot already, most of it you can’t see), and as businesses get smarter, it’s going to become more accessible and more part of every day. Driverless cars and Google assistants are just going to become normal and they’re all absolutely reliant on data. It’s absolutely fundamental… things have become hugely different in the last twenty years, and I believe it’s going to be phenomenally different in the next twenty years.”

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About the author:

Gráinne Loughran

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