The New Gig Economy: Your Data

September 18, 2018

September 18, 2018

Who will be on the Right Side of Big Data History?

Uber, Lyft, TaskRabbit, Fiverr, Airbnb. Ten years ago most of these companies were just starting to break through to the average consumer’s radar.  Now, we can barely imagine living without the convenience they offer and for many, the income opportunity.  Do you have a special skill? You can make a bit of extra cash. Have a car? Someone needs a ride and they are willing to pay. Extra room? Become a host and get paid for opening your home to interesting people from around the world. Everyone is wondering what that next big thing is in the gig economy and the answer is both exciting and transformative.  The new gig economy will be the monetization of your personal data.

While our friends at Google are quietly reeling from the effect of GDPR and Cambridge Analytica reverberates across Silicon Valley as a cautionary tale to our friends at Facebook, there are others who see this as the opportunity to finally give consumers back the power and be on the right side of data history.  The future of this new gig economy will belong to companies who also follow on this side.

Companies such as programmatic exchanges could provide a secondary source of income for users who are willing to provide implicit consent for the user of their data. This is clearly a mutually beneficial situation: companies can invest in ads with the utmost certainty that they’ll be reaching a relevant audience, and users could be compensated for providing this valuable information.

The immediate benefits to arrangements such as this would be apparent in that users would no longer have to endure annoying and irrelevant ads. A student with significant debt wouldn’t need to be taunted by an ad for an obscenely luxurious watch. A recovering alcoholic could avoid ads for beer and spirits. Not only would they upgrade their user experience, they’d be paid to do so.

But the more interesting benefits could come in more niche applications, such as in the health sector. Imagine if you could use your health and consumer data to inform the development of new drug candidates to cure disease? What I love about this new gig economy is that it gives everyone an opportunity to contribute and earn in the way best suited to their needs, desires, and abilities. In doing so it democratizes and decentralizes things that previously were only controlled by a small group holding a power position.  

Here is an example: to contribute to research and the development of drug candidates currently, you must participate in an industry or government-sponsored clinical research study.  To participate, you must meet the protocol criteria- criteria that is developed to meet a specific end-- the validation of a clinical outcome measure/endpoint.  Very few will meet these criteria due to the rigor of this type of research. Additionally, the hypothesis must be narrow by design and the selection of the endpoints are partially driven by a commercial aim, the support of a drug labeling “claim”.  

In the new gig economy where we are all empowered to share - and be compensated for - our data, we will have the ability to grant researchers access to many more data points - points that reflect us holistically and realistically as a human, not just a “subject.”  This includes things like social determinant data and consumer data such as our abilities and our motivators. This will allow us to not only contribute but to actually shape the drug development process, ensuring treatments are valuable in the real world, not just in the lab.

In a recent article, Paul Simms Chairman of EyeforPharma challenged readers to “Stop giving yourself away for free.” An intriguing call to action, but can we? And, can we recognize how incredibly transformative this could be?  Perhaps one of the most exciting by-products of this new gig economy might be the impact it can have on poverty. If a consumer is able to monetize permission for use of their data at, let’s say $200 a month, what might someone in a developing country do with this new-found asset? Especially when health data is worth so much more.

What other use cases might there be for data monetization in the new gig economy and more important how can we use this power for collective negotiation as consumers to leverage our data to get what we need and expect from the market? What about disrupting the FICO scoring and the often biased and one-dimensional criteria that drives lending?   I posit we might use our data to renegotiate the terms of how capitalization on a personal and professional level  takes place.  We can build new lending systems that take a more holistic approach to the criteria we value when considering “worthiness”.

Beyond this, just think of what we could use our new found power of data ownership to accomplish! Take the concept of geospatial data: could we use this data to create virtual support systems and safety nets for those suffering from addiction, debilitating mental illness or homelessness? Could we innovate new solutions to end human trafficking?  

Like all innovations, there are a number of questions we must grapple with as we bravely charge forward- ethics being top of mind.  What could the unintended consequences be of such a transformative movement?  For those who are economically disadvantaged, compensation could equate to coercion if we are not mindful of the ask.  While we would like to hold data as our “property” vs. something that is inherently “us” it is not a commodity that can be bought and traded without consequence. We must avoid disenfranchising people through new market forces that we have yet to anticipate.  

We already have examples of how that might happen. Look at the countries where pharmaceutical companies conduct research. In many cases these countries are prioritized by the ability to recoup the R&D investment by selling a commercialized product in that country.  Now think of this in the frame of the new data economy:  what if a commercial entity is willing to pay more for the data of the person in the western world vs. an African nation simply because they see greater commercial viability?  Or, will this finally be an opportunity for those who are underserved to be represented and fairly compensated for an exchange they are already unwittingly part of?  

It will not be simple, but if owning your data as your property is the right side of big data history as I suggest, we need to charge bravely forward and empower the new, decentralized and democratized gig economy for the greater good!

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