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Sat 31 Aug 2019 10:10 AM

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How to earn dirhams for your data

Ankit Chaudhari, co-founder of Aiisma, explains how he is helping people take back control of their personal information

How to earn dirhams for your data

“If you had an oil rig, you would not give your oil away for free,” says Ankit Chaudhari.

Perish the thought. This region, in particular, would be a very different place if its oil was given away free of charge.

“So why give your data away without charge when it can be just as valuable?” he asks in his next sentence.

He’s got a point; about the oil and the data. Thousands of companies across the world are taking consumer data and using it to decide where to place advertisements, what content to feature and which consumers may be interested in a specific product.

And what are consumers getting back for this? Precious little, bar the all-too-frequent apology from global operations. In August, social media giant Twitter was forced to apologise after admitting it might have used people’s country code and engagement details with a particular ad, as well as inferences made about the devices they use.

The mission of Aiisma is to return the ownership of data back to consumers, says Chaudhari

“You trust us to follow your choices and we failed here,” Twitter said on its website, along with an apology and a promise to take steps to not repeat the “mistake”.

And Twitter is not an isolated incident. Type personal data into the news section of any internet search engine and it throws up a veritable encyclopaedia of data breaches. However, UAE residents are being offered the chance to take back the control of their personal data and even profit from it.

Data disruptor

Aiisma bills itself as a disruptor of the traditional data collection industry.

Headquartered in Las Vegas, the company has expanded into the Middle East with the opening of its MENA headquarters in Sharjah. Its ecosystem is set to launch in the UAE and Indian sub-continent in Q4 this year.

Chaudhari, co-founder of Aiisma, tells Arabian Business: “Aiisma’s vision is to return the power of data and its associated value back to consumers, to create a transparent data transaction ecosystem between the consumer and the businesses, disrupting dated, traditional data gathering methods.”

The company gives businesses the opportunity to consensually and legally have access to consumer data at a fair price and under transparent conditions.

Aiisma doesn’t charge consumers any fees for using the ecosystem. Instead, the platform operates on a ‘reward per share’ model, rewarding consumers for the data they choose to share.

The UAE government’s overwhelming support for start-ups and the country’s technologically-aware population makes the UAE a critical market for our launch

“Project creators like start-ups and enterprises have the opportunity to create projects seeking specific consumer data for which they would pay a project fee upon acquiring data from the ecosystem. This fee is calculated based on a percentage of the overall budget assigned to the specific project,” says Chaudhari.

The Great Hack

Arguably one of the most famous instances of data breach happened just last year when British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica drew data through a Facebook app that purported to be a psychological research tool. Roughly 270,000 people downloaded and shared personal details with the app.

Under Facebook’s policies at the time, the app was able to draw information from those users’ friends as well, even though those friends never consented. Facebook said as many as 87 million people might have had their data accessed.

The scandal saw Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg hauled in front of Congress in the US and is the subject of a Netflix documentary released last month, called The Great Hack.

However, Chaudhari says the Aiisma venture is fully compliant with global data protection laws. “The Aiisma platform is being built with an emphasis on security and privacy improvement. It utilises distributed ledger technology, more commonly known as blockchain, to ensure security, as well as the privacy of users while they engage with Aiisma,” he says.

“The platform will permit consumers full discretion and precise control over how and what data is shared within the Aiisma ecosystem, connected Aiisma devices or the operating system, including control over the duration and purpose of sharing.

Aiisma bills itself as a disruptor of the traditional data collection industry

“Consumers will only have the ability to share behavioural data and not personally sensitive data within the ecosystem. For example, consumers can choose to share the number of text messages sent or received from a device within a certain time span but not the context of each message being sent from the device.”

Aiisma’s UAE vision has been further strengthened by Dubai-based Varun Sridharan, who has recently joined the team as an investor and co-founder.

My data, my asset

The Aiisma ecosystem is currently in beta testing. The support side of the software is currently being tested for stability and usage behaviour with about 30,000 connected devices.

Chaudhari says: “Today, there are technological walls between businesses and consumers that curtail the opportunity for direct interactions as well as creating cost-barriers for start-ups seeking entry to the market, which can hinder research and development.

“This shifts the balance largely in favour of big enterprises, as they have the capital to invest in the often costly acquisition, handling and sorting of data. As a result, marketing strategies nowadays are driven by consumer targeting rather than consumer engagement, which Aiisma believes should be the way forward as it consists of correspondence allowing consumers to communicate what their needs are and for businesses to respond.”

Aiisma has set its sights on creating a positive change around the world. Chaudhari says: “#MyDataMyAsset is a campaign Aiisma wants to spread around the globe, and the UAE government’s overwhelming support for start-ups and the country’s technologically-aware population makes the UAE a critical market for our launch.”

Arabian Business digital magazine: read the latest edition online

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