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Stephen Wolfram is a scientist obsessed with data. He analyzed 23 years’ worth of emails in order to find patterns in his behavior: when he is more creative, when there is a dip in his productivity and so forth. No doubt that data pattern analysis can reveal a lot about us, but if, unlike Wolfram, our private data is housed, or even owned, by third parties such as Facebook and Google, then how easy will it be to actually carry out that data analysis? Moreover, who will own or have the rights to the outcomes of such analysis?

In the age of the ‘powerful consumer,’ the more data we share the less power we actually have.

To put things in perspective, five years ago you probably had one internet-connected device in your living room while five years from now that number could be fifty. From your fridge to your clothes, your belongings will become ‘always on’ devices able to exchange information about you and your habits without as much as a touch of a button. So what about the wealth of data you are continually generating each and every day. Unfortunately, the terms of service and privacy policies for nearly all service providers are a one-sided joke. The power currently belongs to companies. We’re simply there providing the data.

So, as consumers, what can we do? We have to start changing our relationship with the companies that consume our data, by protecting it ourselves. In 2012, we saw the rise of the notion of VRM (Vendor Relationship Marketing/Management). Unlike CRM, VRM aims to provide consumers independence from vendors. Simultaneously, a number of disruptive start- ups launched the concept of ‘personal servers’ where, instead of giving brands your data, users withhold information in a closed, personally-managed network or ‘server’ so they can decide what information they show, to what company, and when.

Some great examples of putting the consumer truly in control are projects like Lockr and Tent. With Tent, users prevent their information from ever becoming someone else’s property by participating in social networks based on distributed technology. Imagine a Facebook or Twitter where anyone could operate their own server instead of signing up for an account. Tent offers users the same freedom for social data.

“We have to start changing our relationship with the companies that consume our data, by ” protecting it ourselves.
So what could ‘owning your data’ mean for consumers and brands?

Individuals owning their data could enable consumers to form the equivalent of “buyer groups” to negotiate for better deals or to get brands to create products that meet a certain group’s needs. This could be as complex as a crowd-sourced design for a kitchen appliance, or as simple as a small group of friends out one night looking for a good deal on drinks. The group could broadcast some basic facts about themselves: number of people, how long they wanted to stay out and solicit bids for the next bar they visit. A bartender having a slow night might offer them a free drink.

This system could be completely automated on both sides—think high-frequency trading—not eBay. The bidding process would be private. It would be based on each party’s needs and offered on a take-it-or-leave-it basis to individual customers.

Brands, on the other hand, will have to master the art of truly personalized experiences where most of the input for advertising opportunities comes from the users. Right now companies look at big data or combined behavioral patterns of people so they can pretend to personalize experiences based on aggregated behavior. That’s not anywhere near true personalization and does not give consumers differentiated experiences.

When consumers are in control of what they want a brand to know about themselves, it will change the dynamics of advertising.