Chris Skinner's blog

Shaping the future of finance

Who owns the data? Who’s in control?

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I find life interesting. Themes recur over and over and over again. Will big banks survive? When will we, will we be cashless? Oh when, will we, will be branchless? Can we really replace the City with a trading network of algorithms? And more.

One of my favourite recurring themes is when will we have a digital identity scheme. It comes up regularly in distributed ledger discussions, in discussions around data ownership and privacy, in discussions about almost anything really. When will I own my data? When will I have my own identity? How can I take control of me away from banks, corporations and governments and give it to me?

Now I’m no expert in this field, the honourable Mr. David Birch takes that mantle, but it does seem true that the current model of data privacy, data ownership, data permissions and data control is broken.

Why is it that my identity has to be government issued and verified? Why is it that the bank has to check, double check and then triple check my identity? Why is that when I get a bank to issue me with an identity, then I can get access to other services but not without a bank account? What happens if I don’t drive, don’t travel, don’t have a bank account and don’t have an identity?

I’ve written about this a lot, and the reoccurring theme is citizen-in-control. In fact, I’m so certain that the mantra of the next decade is going to be citizen or customer in control that I’m going to put my stake in the ground right here, right now, and say that this is going to be the biggest debate of the next decade.

How do we put citizens and customers in control of their data?

Right now, too many institutions think they control customer data. Sure, they have the words to say that the customer is in control, but the customer has to give permission to have their data shared, so they’re not really in control. They think they are or, rather, the policymakers think they now are … but they’re not in control if they don’t know. They’re not in control if they institutions make it so hard to share their data with complex permission layers, that they don’t see how to do it. And they’re not in control if the institutions and media put the fear of god into them to make them think that if they share their data they’re going to be compromised.

This came out of a dialogue around PSD2 and GDPR, but it goes wider than this. It goes to the heart of APIs, the network and centralisation. If data is centralised, it is controlled.

That’s why I think this is the debate of the next decade because we are going to move to the network and the data being decentralised and democratised. If it’s decentralised and democratised, who’s in control?

It’s not the institution or the government, but the citizen and the customer. That’s the way it should be and hopefully will be. The citizen will be in control. The customer will be in control. Then how are you going to stitch me up? It’s going to be much, much harder.

Is it going to happen? Well, that’s the $64 million question, isn’t it? After all, if I really am in control, governments and institutions won’t like it. So, will it ever happen? Maybe it’s already here … from The Guardian:

More developed products include OpenBazaar (a decentralised marketplace), Graphite Docs (a Google documents alternative), Textile Photos (an Instagram-like alternative for storing, managing, and sharing photos on the DWeb), Matrix (which provides Slack and WhatsApp alternatives) and DTube(a YouTube alternative). Social network alternatives include Akasha and Diaspora. There is also a new independent experimental browser for exploring the peer-to-peer web called Beaker Browser

Chris Skinner Author Avatar

Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog,, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...

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