Internet giants built their empires by tracking our personal data, as a way to serve customized advertising to users. Humada aims to shift that paradigm by bringing control back to individual users like you and me. We met Dr. Andreas Berger, Co-Founder & CEO of Humada Inc., last year at GreenBiz Group’s VERGE conference, where he spoke about innovation in the utility sector. Now he’s innovating in the personal data space too – or shall we say disrupting? In this nextPERSON interview, Berger lays out the case for protecting the data we create everyday.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
I am changing the Internet by changing the way personal information flows through it. Co-founder Hans-Martin Hellebrand and I are currently building the infrastructure that will allow individuals to own, access, control and transfer their data. And while we do that, we think about the long-term implications of the Internet of Everything (IoT) from a legal, moral and global perspective. Because the data produced by “smart” devices – which are not necessarily smart, but it sounds so much better – and the growth in connectivity will create an environment where an abundance of data will impact every single thing in our lives: dating, entertainment, advertising, but also bureaucracy, international travel and taxes. But only with the right infrastructure we, and especially the individual, will be able to harvest the value inherent in this environment.
Today most people would agree that personal information is valuable. But maybe it’s not the information itself that is so valuable, but the portability of it. See, today all personal information that is created with or without your awareness is stored in silos owned by private companies like Google, Facebook or, in the case of my bluetooth toothbrush, Braun. I mean, today pretty much everyone owns devices that are somehow sending information somewhere. But the problem is that you don’t own this information. If you are lucky, you might see it. But that’s about it.
Therefore we aim to radically change the way applications and products work today, away from an organization dominated environment into a user dominated environment, resulting in true data ownership. Application and service providers will be able to access a large customer base without owning huge data silos. We are also focusing on privacy improvements that enable any service or product provider to benefit from the personal information around the individual, while giving the individual back the control over their personal information floating around in cyberspace. Soon enough we will see what that means, and together with our great development team we are working on the next steps of this trend every single day.
WHY DO YOU DO IT?
Someone needs to do it! I was born in the eastern part of Germany, years before the wall came down, so it is natural that I’m interested in topics around freedom. And since we live in a digital world, it only makes sense that I should be figuring out how to free personal information that is created with and without our awareness. You know, besides all the inefficiencies within the Web – which is largely controlled by just a few organizations that own much of the entire personal information of most of humanity – from today’s perspective, most governments and organizations are just as inefficient, led by single individuals or a small group of individuals with limited knowledge and only limited access to information. We have a big information problem with real consequences in people’s lives.
This leads to structures that will never allow the majority of humanity to benefit from everything relatively few people in the western world benefit from every day. We live in the best times of history, but still many people don’t even know that, nor do they have access to the achievements of society. Not just talking about water and food, but mostly education and freedom. While I have the privilege to access the best education in the world as a Visiting Scholar at Stanford University, and can get to three international airports within 30 minutes with connections in almost any spot in the world, we still have multiple countries that we can’t go to because of civil war or other crises. We need to rearrange global institutions, and we can only do this by empowering the individuals first. This is why I get up every single morning. We owe it, not only to our own kids, but to all the kids in the world.
For the moment we are quite busy with the development of our infrastructure. But soon we will see the first dramatic changes the digital development will have on the world. Artificial Intelligence and Big Data will influence things that we never thought could be influenced by technology. Today it is the content we watch on Netflix, tomorrow it is the food we eat, and in 5 years it will be who we are dating or who we live next to.
If you think you are online because you have smartphone and a Facebook account, think again. I think we are only online about 1% of the time right now, but given the exponential growth of computing, connectivity and data we will soon be online 70-90% of our time. With everything. Everywhere. We need to be prepared for that. The moral standards of today don’t work in the world of tomorrow. We will learn things about individuals or groups of individuals that we don’t like today, but maybe will have to accept in the future. Trends will shift so quickly that adjusting can’t take decades anymore. And therefore we need to be prepared. Everyone.