Many Americans seem resigned to not having control over their data profiles on the Internet. As larger and more sophisticated data breaches are reported in growing numbers, and companies such as Facebook and Google engage in mysterious data activities, technology users are left not knowing who’s got their data, or what they’re going to do with it.
“It was just a matter of time before Facebook and Google stepped over the line where regulators would no longer be able to avoid the public outcry,” said Jon Fisse, CEO and co-founder of a startup privacy-as-a-service platform provider called Atomite. “The idea behind Atomite came to me after observing the reaction of the public to the [Edward] Snowden NSA disclosures. My takeaway was, if the public was stunned by the NSA’s tracking techniques, they should have a look at what’s happening in the commercial marketplace.”
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In Europe, where Fisse said privacy is valued more as a constitutional right then it is in the U.S., there is a higher sensitivity as to what happens to EU citizen data. The General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) put in place by the European Union a year ago, was among the first moves to protect the public at large from data misuse. In the United States, he added, consumers are just now coming to place more importance on the right to control their data.
Data is big business, with at least one estimate putting the size of that market at $18.2 billion in 2018. But in mid-January, AT&T announced it would stop selling its customer location data to third-party data brokers without the customers’ knowledge. Fisse said mobile service providers, consumer finance companies and automotive OEMs with millions of users, are angling for a share of that data market. In the smartphone space, cellular service has become a commodity, and Fisse indicated that providers are looking for alternative revenue streams. “They’re saying, we can leverage our huge databases of first-party data to compete with Facebook and Google in the digital ad marketplace, but we need to do so in a way that doesn’t alienate our subscribers,” he said.
Managing data compliance and sales, though, is not the core mission of these companies. Atomite’s platform acts to provide consumers understandable insights into what information is being collected and shared, for what purposes, and for how long. “The consumer can create their permission profiles through a simple and engaging process,” Fisse said. With the platform, which is white-labeled to these companies, as users provide more information about themselves and grant more permissions, they are rewarded with points that can be redeemed for products and services on the company’s sites. In this sense, “Atomite helps consumers to navigate what are the initial stages of an embryonic consumer data marketplace,” Fisse concluded.