We are intrigued by the potential that Solid holds to radically change the way we deal with data. Here we document our experiments applying Solid within a digital analytics context.
Data-driven innovation is broken
Ruben Verborgh, Professor of decentralized Web technology at Ghent University, clearly outlines what is wrong with our current way of working with data. We’re living in a data-driven economy, and that won’t change anytime soon. Companies, start-ups, organisations, and governments all require some of our data to provide us with the services we want and need. Unfortunately, decades of Big Data thinking has led many companies to a consequential fallacy: the belief that they need to harvest and maintain that personal data themselves in order to deliver their services and thus survive in the data-driven economy (from ruben.verborgh.org).
This race to more and more data is not sustainable. Only the one with "the most" wins. All others are determined to become losers, throwing resources down the drain trying to catch up. Moreover, the focus in the current model is entirely wrong: we're focused on gaining power and not on providing a good service. This view is supported by the current legal and ethical climate surrounding data collection. The European GDPR legislation makes it clear that the way we have been working until now is no longer acceptable. It makes data collection increasingly complex and business models that hinge on harvesting personal data are no longer viable.
Enter Solid: putting the data subject in control
We need to shed a new light on the interplay of businesses, people, and their data. An ecosystem of personal data, in which every person has their own personal data vault, which we refer to as a data pod.
Think of a data pod as a virtual drive to which you as an individual hold the keys. Your data pod can then store and safeguard:
every single piece of data that you produce
every single piece of data that companies and organisations produce about you
As the controller of your data pod, you can decide for every piece of data which parties you want to share it with. This way, companies can get access to specific data without writing or collecting it themselves, while respecting every individual’s preferences.
Acquiring data through harvesting is expensive, and leads to suboptimal access to data. When people are in control, relevant and up-to-date data can be readily available.
Moving control of personal data from companies to people changes the economics of personal data in a way that—perhaps contrary to what our instincts would tell us—is beneficial to small and large companies alike:
Crucially, there will be even more data available—not less, despite fears of some. This is because companies will be able to access data created by others, and people can share that data with any party they believe will provide them with a better service as a result. Without data pods, today’s companies only see data they manage to collect themselves, which is becoming increasingly more difficult to achieve.
It eliminates the cold-start problem, where the first interaction with many apps or services is a sign-up form that people have already filled out over and over again. When the data is in their pod, it only has to be shared, not (manually) duplicated, realizing a better and faster experience for both people and companies.
The collection effort only needs to happen once for every piece of data, so companies no longer spend excessive resources on gathering and maintaining data that their competitors also have readily available.
Data remains synchronized and up-to-date, since companies read it from the source rather than storing it themselves. Whenever any party updates the data, the changes are visible to anyone granted read permissions. This reduces maintenance costs.
The legal rights to access and erasure are trivially satisfied, because people can always see their own data. They can achieve erasure by either stopping to share certain data, or by deleting it from their own pod.