News Fix: You Should Own Your Data

I traveled to Washington Wednesday to spend some time with folks from the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Department of the Treasury, fintech executives, a member of Congress and a variety of regulators and financial policy experts. I won’t bore you with the regulatory talk. All you need to know on that front is that fintech companies want “good” federal regulations and little to no state-level regulations.

Right now, it’s the exact opposite. They have to comply with at least 52 (50 states, Washington, D.C., the federal government and any foreign countries they operate in) regulatory schemes – and some really bad ones at that. But that debate has been happening for ages. It’s not going to get resolved anytime soon (if ever).

There was, however, one far more important topic that came up. And it’s all about you. Who owns your data?

Go ahead. Stop and think about it. It’s a weird question. But it could be one of the most important questions of our time. Who owns your data?

When you buy milk at the grocery store, who owns the record of that transaction? Is it you? Or the grocery store?

When you get an X-ray at the doctor’s office, who owns that X-ray – you or the doctor?

When you get a mortgage, who owns the right to share that information – you or the mortgage company?

I would argue that you own that information – or the right to determine what happens to it. But that’s not the way it works right now. Right now, third parties like banks, stores, social networks, music platforms, apps and doctors have more control over your own personal data than you do.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Fintech (and blockchain) companies are devising new ways for individuals to control their own data – or make sure that data isn’t used inappropriately.

Imagine a world in which you could pick and choose whom you shared data with – instead of being forced to share data just to use a service. A world where a store can’t figure out if you’re pregnant before you tell your family. A world where sharing medical records doesn’t require jumping through a series of hoops. A world where shopping for a briefcase doesn’t trigger an avalanche of briefcase ads. And a world where your rental history belongs to you and not a faceless, soulless credit agency.

That world is on its way. The people in the halls of power know it. Mastercard was talking about it directly. Spring Labs and Payfone were talking about parts of it. Even Capital One, Synchrony and HSBC discussed parts of that ecosystem – even if indirectly.

They know that in theory, this data should belong to you. They’re just hoping you won’t figure that out before they determine how to monetize it.

Good investing,

Vin Narayanan

Senior Managing Editor, Early Investing