Help us build Choice, a blockchain protocol for personal data

Help us build Choice, a blockchain protocol for personal data
Photo by Shubham Dhage / Unsplash

Choice aims to be an open source blockchain protocol that enables trustless marketplaces for personal data. Leveraging private smart contracts, it is now possible for individuals to meaningfully control the exchange and use of their own personal data.

The Choice Project is a public, collaborative effort to develop Choice. Below, we explain our vision for this project and why Choice is necessary in order for individuals to become willing actors in the free market for personal data.

First principles

To understand why The Choice Project is important, we must start from the following seven premises:

1. Individuals own their personal data

Your attributes and behaviors are intrinsic to you. However, they can be objectively ascertained and externalized in the form of data. These assets may be conditionally transferred and used by others, but personal data can never "belong" to anyone other than the person who gives them meaning. In this way, they are unique among commodities.

2. Personal data is valuable

Personal data are the most valuable commodity in the world. They are already more valuable than oil. While renewable energy and off-planet raw materials may lead to extreme supply of other commodities, the supply of personal data is, for now, strictly finite. Its value will only increase.

3. Currently, the price of personal data is zero

Although individuals are the owners of their data, personal data are currently treated as public goods. The cost of data for those who harvest and commercialize them is equal to the cost of extraction and processing.

4. Non-consensual processing of personal data is theft

Individuals today are not willing parties in the collection and use of their personal data. With few exceptions, there is no overriding societal benefit to justify the confiscation of personal data, much less by private entities. This is called theft.

5. Regulations do not give individuals control of their data

Even if general data protection laws provided individuals a measure of control over their data, governments are unable to meaningfully enforce such regulations. Personal data are processed through a multitude of opaque channels, whose complexity and inhomogeneity will inevitably overwhelm any legislative effort to regulate the market.

6. The status quo is corporate dictatorship

Virtually all user data collection systems today are exclusive and opaque. Their systems and algorithms are a trade secret and are not disclosed to the public. In the absence of early regulation of internet companies, three private entities now control a majority of the personal data market worldwide. Google, Amazon, and Facebook are worth about $4.5 trillion, with much of their value predicated on the theft of personal data. Using this very same personal data, these entities have assimilated control of many facets of public and private life. They moderate forums for speech, influence election outcomes, and skew prices and wages. Operating as an unaccountable bloc, they use their power primarily for profit growth and self-preservation, but, as a byproduct of this, they have created a new form of dictatorship: corporate, supra-national, and outside the framework of any governance that exists today.

7. Personal data must remain on the market

Technologies that leverage personal data are essential. Individuals must be incentivized to supply their personal data to the marketplace. Personalized marketing is useful to stimulate commerce and to encourage the adoption of new innovations. Many technologies, such as health monitors, are functionally dependent on personal data collection. Privacy-enabled data collection can even serve the public interest for uses such as census data and contact tracing. The misuse of personal data may lead individuals to withdraw their data from the market. Any emergent data collection technology should mitigate data misuse and encourage widespread data sharing.

The promise of Choice

We propose an alternative data collection protocol that preserves individual rights while facilitating the use of personal data for commercial and public interests.
The aim is to build open-source technology that provides data sovereignty in combination with digital identity. Personal data can be collected and distributed in a public blockchain, with the ultimate goal to enable commercially viable data exchanges.

Choice will provide a business-focused and realistic alternative system to the current private model that renders individuals as unwilling parties in the extraction of their data assets. The protection of personal data will be ensured not through government regulation but through encryption and privacy-preserving computation networks.

Users will be able to select what and how much user information can be collected on their behavior. They will be able to release and revoke personal data strings to the market (or segments of the market or even specific entities) in exchange for value or access to goods, services, or information.

Choice will empower brands and organizations to aggregate user data in order to target cohorts in a commercial context with expanded efficiency and reliability, while lowering the overall costs associated with marketing campaigns based on user data.

The widespread adoption of decentralized, open source alternative data marketplaces would disrupt the current industry and give way to new and more efficient innovations.

How Choice works

The commercial sector plays a vital role in the adoption of Choice among brands, publishers, organizations, and public-sector entities.

Choice is a protocol layer between apps and servers (internet services), and a privacy-preserving computation network. It regulates the way apps and servers collect, access, and use personal data as the data travel between users and the computation network.

Internet services will join the network by agreeing to run an encrypted data collection tool in exchange for access to aggregate data as nodes of the network. To use the data collected by other players, first-party participation is required. (User consent to this anonymized, aggregate data processing is not necessary or desired.)
Participating in the network allows internet services to access the tools that give access to aggregated segments, preference cohorts, similarity groups, demographics, and more. The cost of participation is lower than the cost of buying access to the same data segments from privately owned companies that currently offer data access and advertisement technology.

Additionally, users may electively connect their digital identity to the data collection network. These users will be able to view, release, revoke, transport, and delete their personal data. As a byproduct of participation, they are also offered more relevant ads, commercial opportunities, product discoveries, and personalized promotions that are ultimately viewed positively because their origin is known and controlled.

The overall network value is determined by two main drivers:

  • The number of client and server nodes in the network
  • The marginal value recognized to the network by its users

The drivers are directly correlated, offering better value when the network is larger, and increasing adoption when the marginal value grows.
When the network is launched and both metrics are low, the overall value is low and offers a cheap entry point to privacy-focused services and alternate industry sectors that are the most penalized by the current model, such as health providers and privacy apps.

Give people Choice

This document is a statement of principles for a technology that doesn't exist. We are entrepreneurs, privacy advocates, and blockchain enthusiasts who recognize the imperative of our idea but lack the technical resources to execute it. Therefore this document is also a request for assistance.

We are currently recruiting members worldwide in the distributed technology, cryptography, and legal spaces to incorporate a nonprofit organization based in Zug, Switzerland. The founding members are setting out the scope and vision to immediately begin the work on the Choice protocol.

Everyone is welcome to contribute to The Choice Project and reach out to us to submit ideas, proposals, get involved and ask questions. Please contact us using our encrypted email address, choicefoundation (at)