Internet users have been using a multitude of services that require user identification with a private entity and an even larger number of services able to collect behavioral information and preferences without explicit user identification.
Private companies have been developing technologies able to collect user information and – while not explicitly exposing personal information to clients of such technologies – have been able to infer users' personalities and attach them to real users identification.
Despite the recent past attempts to keep the users informed of their privileged access to user data (GDPR), the multitude of players in the industry, the complexity and the dishomogeneous and opaque process that currently permits users to manage their associated information has fallen short of the promise to protect and guarantee online user rights and curb online algorithm discrimination.
The Choice Foundation is an expert working group aiming at researching and developing open source technologies able to offer a privacy-focused alternative to private sector systems in order to build the public trustless system to collect, store and make the personal information collected by Internet services available.
The technology is researched to present a business-focused and realistic alternative system to a privately-owned model that limits user choices with complexity and opacity, to offer brands and organizations the ability to access and use personal information in a commercial context with expanded efficiency and reliability, while lowering the overall costs associated with marketing campaigns based on user data.
At present day the user data collection systems in place are entirely privately owned and privately funded. Their systems and algorithms are a trade secret and are not disclosed to the public. As a result, data sovereignty is poorly implemented and extremely limited, and data ownership is entirely in the hands of organizations that offer no external scrutiny over its use and elaboration. In many cases the lack of user data sovereignty generates cases of discrimination based on preferences, views, race, education, background and more.
The limits to the public's ability to scrutinize how and what data is collected and stored are topped by the opacity of the algotithms in place. Private players make user segments or cohorts commercially available to clients who are forced into buying expensive and unscritinized data aggregates for their marketing purposes; the lack of a public and trusted alternative system supports privately-held monopolies.
There are currently no public alternatives available in the user data technology space. The research and development investment capacity of one single player has recently topped $28B, thus rendering alternative private efforts unlikely to being able to match the R&D capacity.
In the context of data collection technologies, the monopolistic concentration of software and tools has so far given one single private company the ability to own the most part of the data collection and sale business worldwide.
The public and open source initiative
The Choice Foundation presents itself as the leading expert group to drive the public, open-source and government funded initiative able to offer an alternative that will benefit users, buyers (publishers) and the society as a whole.
Only a transparent and scrutinizable organization can offer the commitment and diligent focus on building technologies that put user rights and privacy at the top priority, while setting the viable alternative system for public regulation aiming at limiting anti-competitive behaviors.
The foundation that comprises public and private stakeholders focuses on building the trusted framework for large-scale changes to happen, and for business models to adapt to a newly found user-respecting environment for commercial players.
The economic model
For wide-spread change to happen, a new economic model and a new system needs to be offered as a viable alternative to existing systems that are targeted to be replaced.
The public initiative has to be clear and consistent, as well as the economic viability and the sponsorship model.
The Choice Foundation aims at reaching user privacy rights by offering complete control and user data sovereignty to the general public. Users will be able to select what and how much user information can be collected on their behavior. They will be able t0 limit the scope, and volunteer information segments as they see fit. They can make informed choices on who to electively inform with their user data, in exchange for a revenue share on the marketing campaigns that they receive as recipients.
The commercial sector plays a vital role in the implementation and spread of the initiative among brands, publishers, organizations and public sector entities that take part in the building of the data collection network.
Internet services will join the network by agreeing to run an encrypted data collection tool in their systems in exchange for access to aggregate data as nodes of the network. In order to use the data collected by other players, first party participation is required.
Participating in the network allows 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.
Users who electively connect their digital identity to the data collection network are offered privacy-focused preference collection tools that allow to view, modify, delete, restrict access to their user information. They are also offered better targeted advertisement, commercial opportunities, product discoveries and targeted promotions that are ultimately found as a positive value when their internal functioning is known and trusted.
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. New players join the network growing the overall value and working as sponsors of a new model that offers better value for money and more opportunities.
The growth of the network shall be both organic and regulatory-based. Once the scope of building a technology that provides trustless user tracking as an alternative to privately-owned systems, state regulations should start limiting the extent of private scope in the sector thus enhancing the scope and value of the public counterpart.