This summer MIT’s Media Lab introduced the OpenPDS platform to with the goal of putting using in control of their data. This is coming out of Sandy Pentland‘s Human Dynamics Lab and he is involved in the project, although his role in any business plans is still unclear. We have spoken before about him, he is a great proponent of personal data empowerment and a powerful voice with the ear of scientists, business and politicians in equal measure. The concept was introduced in a paper that details an architecture which is meant to allow users to benefit from their own data without sacrificing their privacy.
“Only answers, no raw data”
How does it work? The main idea is that users can allow 3rd party applications to ask “questions” of their personal data store, without giving those applications access to the data itself. This works along the lines of how an app can ask Android or iOS what the user is doing (walking, running, bicycle, transport, etc.) without accessing location or motion sensor data directly. OpenPDS allows the user to control the computation of the answer (they call it “SafeAnswer”) on the personal data store, and the content which is delivered is only what is required for the correct 3rd party app behavior.
“A New Deal on data is needed”
From a business standpoint, the concept is very much aligned with that of Personal which we have discussed here before. They also create a secure personal data safe, and then give the user tools to use that data to personalize their internet environment. While Personal is running a business since 2009, OpenPDS appears to be launching the first real competition now. The question that remains to be seen is, will a group of motivated personal data empowered individuals be enough to revolutionize the personal data ecosystem? Or is a collaborative platform needed where the power of all of their personal data is combined in order to effect real change?