Unlocking the Future of Data: Brendan Playford's Revolutionary Vision with Masaby@ishanpandey
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Unlocking the Future of Data: Brendan Playford's Revolutionary Vision with Masa

by Ishan PandeyFebruary 27th, 2024
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Brendan Playford, the visionary founder of Masa, as part of our "Behind the Startup" series. Brendan shares his fascinating journey from an early cryptocurrency enthusiast to leading a pioneering startup aimed at transforming how personal data is owned, controlled, and monetized in the age of AI. Discover the inspiration behind Masa and its mission to challenge the current paradigms of data consumption and privacy.
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Join us in an enlightening conversation with Brendan Playford, the visionary founder of Masa, as part of our "Behind the Startup" series. Brendan shares his fascinating journey from an early cryptocurrency enthusiast to leading a pioneering startup aimed at transforming how personal data is owned, controlled, and monetized in the age of AI. Discover the inspiration behind Masa and its mission to challenge the current paradigms of data consumption and privacy.

Decentralizing Data: Brendan Playford's Quest with Masa: Delve into how Masa is setting a new standard for data usage and privacy in the digital age.

Ishan Pandey: Hi Brendan, great to have you here for our "Behind the Startup" series. Please tell us about your background and what inspired you to create Masa?

Brendan Playford: I became fascinated with crypto and blockchain technology in early 2013, while still living in the UK. I was an early Bitcoin miner, and got lucky solo mining the first blocks of DOGE. I used the proceeds to set up retail hardware businesses selling Bitcoin miners on eBay. Coming from a disadvantaged part of the UK with just a GPU and some time, I was able to unlock more value than I could imagine. I was hooked and saw that the future was open accessible technology for everyone - crypto delivers this.

Masa started as a decentralized credit protocol, solving for increased access to credit. After seeing a bigger opportunity in transforming the current surveillance capitalism paradigm, where our data is monetized wholesale without our consent, Masa evolved into becoming the world’s personal data network. Where users can own their data and can realize the full value of it. After seeing the rise of AI, we quickly realized that people all over the world are having their data and contributions on the internet scrapped and used to train models that drive billion dollar businesses, yet all of us receive no compensation for our data or contributions – we are changing that at Masa.

Ishan Pandey: Can you give us an overview of Masa and its mission in building the world's largest decentralized personal data network?

Brendan Playford: At Masa, we’re changing the way that data is sourced, aggregated, and consumed in the age of AI. Today’s personal data — from browsing history, app usage, your scroll time, to Twitter messages, emails, and more — is locked up in walled gardens, controlled by big tech.

Our every action is tracked and monetized. Our personal data is resold under the guise of ‘consent’ upon using a platform, but not with a clear choice or understanding of how our data is being used or monetized. Users remain the product. Today this data landgrab is accelerated by the proliferation of AI with personal data consumed in vast amounts to train AI models and agents.

With Masa, we’re on a mission to drive a new paradigm and bring a new permissionless data layer to the world. Where data is owned by all participants – giving users the holy grail of self-sovereignty – complete control and the ability to monetize their data. Masa sits in the background and aggregates your massive digital footprint, making it private and secure for when you want to monetize it.

This is a trillion dollar global opportunity with an unfathomably large market of billions of users.

Anyone with an internet connection will be able understand their data footprint, and will be able to actively contribute their data and earn passive rewards. Users decide what data to share and with whom. Developers utilize Masa Network’s data to build data driven applications, grow their user bases with targeted analytics, train LLMS and AI agents, power decentralized advertising, and more.

Ishan Pandey: How does Masa differentiate itself from traditional data platforms and other decentralized data exchanges?

Brendan Playford: Masa is unique in that we specialize in user data that is typically siloed in big tech institutions. This comprises billions of detailed behavioral data points that accurately represent a user's digital persona. This personal user data is the most valuable form of data, and is consumed in high volume user analytics, segmentation, audience creation, advertising and most critically training unbiased artificial-intelligence models on trustworthy data.

Masa’s data is unique and proprietary – not scraped publicly available data or aggregated on-chain data. Masa’s data which is private by default and anonymized to be compliant with global regulations and is aggregated through partners and permissioned directly from users participating in the Masa Network.

Further, users can become data aggregators themselves by scraping data through the Masa Chrome Extension. Masa is distinct and unique by giving users the ability to store and share their data privately while giving developers the ability to access high veracity and validated data to build a universe of innovative and hyper-personalized applications. For example, imagine AI agents trained on your preferences, behaviors, browsing and social behavior – your digital twin ready to help support you with your personal choices and productivity.

Ishan Pandey: Could you explain the concept of Zero-Knowledge Soulbound Tokens (zkSBTs) and how they function within the Masa ecosystem?

Brendan Playford: Masa invented zero-knowledge soulbound tokens, as debuted in the 2023 7th Cyber Security in Networking Conference. zkSBTs serve as an encrypted “personal data locker” for our users' data. With zkSBTs, a user can actively store their personal data on-chain and off-chain data in an encrypted soulbound token which is assigned to their digital identity.

What’s so unique about Masa’s zkSBTs is that a developer or application can request data from a user which can be verified without ever revealing the underlying data. For example, if a developer is requesting you to confirm you are above the age of 21, Masa only needs to provide a "yes" or "no" zero-knowledge proof without revealing your raw Date of Birth data to the developer.

It’s a way for users to manage their own data, while ensuring the highest-level of privacy in a permissionless and fully decentralized way. Anyone is free to use our code and contribute – it's all open source!

Ishan Pandey: Could you discuss the business model of Masa, particularly how it generates revenue and sustains its operations?

Brendan Playford: The Masa Network is a data marketplace. We have a scalable data supply that drives a massive flywheel across multiple enterprise clients serving millions of users. Additionally, users are able to permission their data to be shared with developers or data buyers in exchange for compensation that is defined by the buyer or user of the data. Our enterprise web3 clients access aggregate user data for free through our Masa Analytics product – think private by default Google Analytics where you (the user) can monetize your data.

Our web2 and web3 AI and Data clients bid on data types and use large amounts of data to train AI and machine learning models. The use cases for Masa’s data are mind-boggling and only limited by creativity. Masa generates revenue on fees charged for accessing data through the Masa Network – Masa Subnet and Masa Oracle Node – and from the data marketplace.

Ishan Pandey: What challenges did you face during the development and growth of Masa, and how did you overcome them?

Brendan Playford: From technical complexity to the bear market – there has been no shortage of challenges getting Masa to where it is – and this is only the start of a 20+ year vision. At Masa we turn every challenge into an opportunity. We focused on recruiting top talent and operating lean, while keeping focused so we can unlock hyper velocity to experiment and learn fast by rapid iteration at a velocity of a team twice or three times as big – this is our culture and DNA.

Since we’ve invented so much technology at Masa, including zkSBTs, we had to build and engineer our own solutions, which required a lot of discipline and expertise to ship fast to production By taking this focused – never scared to pivot approach – Masa grew tremendously through the bear market.

Nailing data product market fit with our analytics product, and growth campaigns – tightly coupling the grow, measure, iterate cycle for our clients and productizing the Masa DNA into our product for clients to use.

Ishan Pandey: How do you envision the future of personal data ownership and privacy? Also with the increasing regulatory scrutiny on data privacy and AI, how does Masa navigate compliance and ensure ethical data practices?

Brendan Playford: The increasing regulatory scrutiny on data privacy with the deprecation of cookies and GDPR becoming the de facto standard globally, coupled with the unbounded growth of AI, is the perfect storm of tailwinds for Masa – not only was this part of what inspired our model but the hypothesis we had is playing out before our eyes. Since users have very limited control over their data and receive no compensation for it, we wanted to introduce a model that disrupted the big tech monopoly on data – bringing trusted equitable access to data to everyone!

At Masa, user data is always stored private-by-default – imagine a digital locker that is with you everywhere gobbling up all of your data ready for when you want to use it – Masa ensures a user maintains control and privacy over their data at all times. This allows them to choose what data they share and who they share it with. Users can opt-in selectively to monetize their data or in the same way you can invest in a diverse pool of ETF in your IRA, invest your data automatically in the best data staking pools to optimize the return on your data passively. Imagine an index for your data – a transparent and open data market for everyone.

In the future, you will benefit from the massive value creation in AI model training as huge volumes of data are consumed to train the leading LLMs. These companies already generating billions of dollars will go on to generate trillions of dollars of revenue through AI interfaces embedded in every interface we interact with – Masa will be the data layer powering this new trillion dollar economy.

Ishan Pandey: With the rise of decentralized finance (DeFi) and blockchain technology, how do you think financial systems and services will transform in the future, and what opportunities does this present for Masa?

Brendan Playford: In the future, I believe that blockchain will become the de facto system of record for the world's private by default personal data.

The web3 and AI tidal wave will lead to billions of users coming on-chain, all securing their data footprint on Masa. With AI revolutionizing the world, companies will continue to create massive demand for personal user data as model differentiation becomes increasingly difficult and data becomes the main differentiator for model tuning. This presents a trillion dollar opportunity for Masa, as we scale to secure over 50% of all web3 user data and beyond over the next 3-years.

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Vested Interest Disclosure: This author is an independent contributor publishing via our brand-as-author program. Be it through direct compensation, media partnerships, or networking, the author has a vested interest in the company/ies mentioned in this story. HackerNoon has reviewed the report for quality, but the claims herein belong to the author. #DYOR