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Me, my data and I: Decode and the future of the personal data economy

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It’s no secret that personal data has become the key commodity of the online business world. The Internet giants – Facebook, Google, etc. – all provide their services “free”, but make money from the detailed profiles they create of our activity as we use social networks and move around the Web. Since we don’t have any choice in whether to allow this if we want to access the services, most people simple accept the practice as an inevitable if regrettable fact of digital life.

But the consequences of doing so are serious. It means most of our activities online are tracked and stored – principally by companies, but also by governments that can draw on that data, using both front and back door access. It means that information about our supposed interests and preferences is fed back into the services to shape the content we see, and the ads that are displayed. It also means that intimate knowledge gleaned from the data can be used to manipulate us in subtle ways. But does it have to be like this? A project funded by the European Union called Decode (DEcentralised Citizen Owned Data Ecosystems) is exploring that question, in the hope that the answer is “no”:

“DECODE is about giving people ownership of their personal data so they can secure their privacy and reclaim their digital sovereignty. It will create new technologies which put them in control of how their data is used so they can decide who has access, and for what purposes. In doing so, DECODE will create a new digital economy ecosystem, enabling in particular the rise of more localised, democratic models for pooling and sharing data. These new technologies will be piloted in Amsterdam and Barcelona. A key principle of this will be the pursuit of

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