Rafael Hoekstra


The Era of Data Sovereignty is upon us!

But who is going to be the ‘Amazon of Data’?

If this is the information age, where is the information getting traded?

Fifty Years of Commerce in Three Sentences
Boxstores like Walmart had their heyday in an era when it was convenient to shop for all manner of goods in a common marketplace. Similarly, the successes of Amazon and Upwork was to create common (virtual) marketplaces for disparate goods and services. Today, where data is so highly valued, there is a wide open need for a common data marketplace.

Data is Already Being Sold
Data is already being bought and sold. However, it’s largely happening in an opaque way. This is tied up with the complications of who owns the data. Indeed, recent years have seen increasing concerns about privacy violations such as the New York Times report of the secret relationship between Facebook and tech companies including Amazon, Microsoft, Spotify, and Yahoo. In searching for a revenue model while offering “free” digital services, many companies have monetised our data. It’s understandable, but times are changing. As awareness of this grows — spurred by ongoing revelations, people are becoming increasingly sensitive about their data.

Is 2019 the New 1984?
No. The last two decades were the ‘1984’ of unchecked data gathering, the era when data vampires got their FAANGs into our information bloodstream.

Now we are at a turning point. We see movements towards using VPNs, #DeleteFacebook, the rise of Steemit, adoption of the Brave Browser, and use of Bitcoin, to name a few. Consciousness around data privacy and the value of our data is growing rapidly. But if it’s so valuable, where can it be traded?

So Where is the ‘Amazon’ of Data?
Amazon’s success was grounded in ‘standardising’ goods. Beginning with books, they mastered the categorisation of disparate products. In order to function well, a data marketplace will need to master this also. Technically, this is called ‘data standardisation’ to create ‘interoperability between data consumers and providers’. In today’s world- more pluralistic than ever, this may be better achieved through standardisation, rather than the creation of standards.

Standards or Standardisation?
Let’s consider IoT as an example. I have presented at and attended the Internet-of-Things Solutions World Congress a couple of times, and beneath all the noise I saw a conference full of major and minor players trying to establish (or impose) common standards for IoT, largely led by the Industrial Internet Consortium. I imagine the early days of the internet may have seen similar chin-wagging, back scratching, and elbowing to come to agreement upon standards. In the case of the internet, the private intranets faded away into obscurity while the protocols of TCP/IP won the day, due to the open internet they offered. And now major companies still have the short-sightedness to offer us Intranets-of-Things?!

From Data Islands to Archipelagos of Free Trade
Make no mistake- the silofication of data (including IoT data) is intentional. It’s no accident that Fitbit cannot sync with the Apple Health app. Many companies are building their own data islands and closing their borders to trade (data) with their neighbours. They do not want to share common standards! For the larger players this may work alright in the short-term, but the world is changing…

We call this the information age. Just as the iron age saw the mastery of iron and the industrial age heralded the mastery of coal and oil, the information age describes the mastery of data to the point where it becomes a commodity. As oil has common standards like a barrel of Brent Crude, data too is trending towards being a standardised, easily traded commodity. Data unification is happening- the only question is which organisations will embrace it early on, and which will resist it to preserve the sanctity of their private ‘Atlantis’.

What Does ‘Data Standardisation’ Mean?
Data Standardisation means it’s not necessary to rewrite your perfectly good code to fit the standards that a self-declared consortium agreed upon last week. Who knows- they may change the standards next week, while your application has been running just fine for years, or even decades. Instead, a protocol can translate your data into a standardization format and make that data comprehensible to other actors in the system (with their permission of course!). In the Unification ecosystem, this translation protocol is called HAIKU and it gives your organisation ‘poetic licence’ to freely trade in the global data marketplace.

Unification’s BABEL dashboard showing permissioned flow of data between organisations

A Global Data Marketplace
The Unification Foundation has also recognized that data producers and consumers need to find each other in order to exchange mutually valuable data. That’s why we’re creating BABEL, a marketplace for data. Like the tower of Babel, this marketplace facilitates the exchange of data without language barriers (e.g. from mySQL to Oracle to SAP). 
To learn more about this idea, check out our three-part series on “Why Unified Data is Inevitable”.

What We’re Doing at Unification
In Summary, we’re building out backwards-compatible Smart Contract integrations (HAIKUs) to standardise datasets from existing tech stacks. At the same time, we’re creating a common marketplace for data exchange which honours and empowers the data’s true owner while connecting data producers and consumers (BABEL). In today’s world, the power of data is ubiquitous- spanning all industries, organisations, and governments. Join us in liberating this power by making data a freely tradeable commodity.

To learn more about how Unification’s technologies can benefit your use case, please reach out to me. We’re currently building out solutions for applications ranging from Insurance Providers to Electronic Healthcare Records, Smart City Management to Governmental Stablecoins, and expanding to new use cases.

More by Rafael Hoekstra

Topics of interest

More Related Stories