Personal data lockers can protect privacy and help businesses, says consultant

Out-Law News | 12 Jun 2014 | 12:10 pm | 2 min. read

Cloud-based 'personal data lockers' can both protect individuals' privacy and help businesses to access the information they need to facilitate transactions or provide services, a cloud computing consultant has said.

Paul Miller of the Cloud of Data said that though the risks of sharing data, such as data breaches or government surveillance, are well-publicised, there are also advantages associated with sharing personal data that people may be less aware of.

In a new report into the impact of the cloud (21-page / 549KB PDF) published by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Miller said that consumers could gain greater control of how their personal information is "acquired, shared or used" by engaging with cloud-based services.

He said that the concept of a cloud-based 'personal data locker' for storing data and documents, such as contact details and financial information, has the potential to deliver such control for consumers. Miller said, though, that businesses could gain faster access to the relevant information they need to provide consumer services.

"Rather than asking you to enter your address, provide your bank details or prove that your car is insured, participating companies could simply ask for permission to access the relevant information in your locker," Miller said. "One argument put forward by personal data locker providers ... is that individuals will be able to give away far less information about themselves. A company requesting proof of age, for example, only needs to know whether or not the individual is over 18 or 21 – not their precise age or date of birth. A personal data locker could quickly return a 'yes' or 'no' answer without revealing more information than necessary."

Miller said that the success of personal data lockers will depend in part on more partner organisations accepting and integrating their services. He said e-commerce platforms and digital public service providers, insurance companies and banks are among those that could help promote the use of the services.

Consumers too need to be convinced of the merits of using the lockers and be motivated to exert greater control over their data, Miller said.

"We all think that we should own and control our own data, but do many of us really care enough to do something about it?" Miller said. "A few dollars a month or the promise of better targeted advertising are unlikely to be sufficient incentive to change our behaviour. And when it comes to data lockers, the size of the data management task becomes daunting. How many of us would willingly invest the time in storing bank details, insurance policies, personal preferences and more in one of these services when the benefits they promise remain intangible?"

"Real transformation will require engagement with both data buyers and data owners on a far larger scale," he said. "And that will necessitate better tools for acquiring and maintaining data, and managing requests for their use. Ultimately, organisations with which we already have some form of trust relationship – the government, perhaps, or our bank – may be best placed to carry this idea forward."