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SXSW: Who owns data in a connected world? Entering the age of Sensorship…

Connected has undoubtedly been more than just a buzzword at SXSW 2015… especially in the tech showcased that connects the physical and digital in health, cars and retail .

Of course, the Internet of Things is by no means a new concept with wearable devices already bringing our own bodies closer to the digital world along with our cars, household appliances and mobile phones.

We already live in a connected world.

Mimo baby suit: a connected device making a difference today

Yet as the race continues to connect more of the many different elements in our lives, there is an underlying struggle to own the myriad of data streams generated by the sensors in these devices.

Ernesto Ramirez, a SXSW speaker and director of The Quantified Self Programme, emphasises that no one can ‘own’ a data point. That’s like trying to own a fact about yourself such as your height or your weight. What you can own is the access to, control over, or the right to share that data.

So who should be able access your data?

The natural answer would seem to be the consumer. Ramirez argues as such, but the reality is that the level of access they have, may not actually provide the whole story. For example, the Apple Health tracker is actually quite limited, as the data that can be viewed and exported is top line aggregated information. This begs the question of whether consumers should have access to ALL the data that devices generate on principle and have the right to use this for our own purposes?

Empowering users with their own data can lead to whole new opportunities, such as the ‘Dexcom’ hack last year that lead to the Night Scout Project. Dexcom allows Type 1 Diabetes sufferers to constantly monitor their blood glucose levels through an internal implant, which is wirelessly connected to a special handheld monitor. A couple of users worked out a way to hack into this data feed between sensor and receiver, and stream the information in real time to their Smartphone, Tablet or Pebble Smart Watch for remote monitoring. This hack has now spurred the manufacturer to create an app for smartphones with the same functionality.

Rachel Kalmar, data scientist at wearables maker Misfit , questions the role hardware companies would have in this open data utopia. Hardware manufacturers need to be wise to the data opportunity, or software companies will take the lead in building skins on top of the data generated by connected devices which could be monetised through subscription or sold to third parties.

So what does this debate over open data mean for advertisers and their agencies?

Michael Boeke, a UX designer, believes about designing for trust believes companies must be transparent about who they are and their motive – especially if the product is free to consumers – but the data being collected is the business model. The more consumer data brands and media owners can access, from an individuals’ behaviour to their location, it increases the opportunity for personalisation. Consumers need to trust us to use the data for good, and this means we must be transparent and ensure consumers have control. Unexpected use of sensitive personal data where the consumer doesn’t understand where that data has been sourced from is definitely creepy, while personalisation that adds value to the user experience, such as Netflix’s algorithm or Amazon Recommends, is welcomed.

Chrissy Totty,  Head of Innovation, Vizeum UK
Keep up to date with the Vizeum Innovation Team’s exploits over in Austin at SXSW by following the latest updates from Chrissy and James on Twitter using #southbyviz
To find out more about ‘Sensorship’ in 2015, check out Vizeum’s BeOnTrend report