Is Data the new Oil?

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In the latest ICO101 podcast Aaron Paul interviewed Dan Gailey, founder of Synapse.ai to discuss one of the newest ICOs in the space.

Every time we scroll through Facebook, buy a book online or click a link in a tweet, we are offering up something of ourselves to giant data collectors. These entities have every ‘right’ to collect our data too, we gave it to them when we signed the 47 pages of terms and conditions when we signed up for their service. These companies have complete control over what has been called ‘the attention economy.’

We haven’t been conditioned to think of our purchasing habits, online behaviour or even our attention as an asset, as something with value. But the Facebooks and Amazons of the world know full well that your attention is money.

Synapse.ai wants to offer a way for everyday people to take ownership of their data and in the process offer up as much or as little as they want to aid in building machine learning and peer to peer sharing of information resources.

“Data is the new oil,” reads the tagline on their website.

The idea is that by becoming a user of Synapse.ai you are taking control of your data instead of just giving it away for free. The way this will work is via trade between users in the synapse marketplace (alpha open now) using the SYN tokens. Everyday users will then have the ability to offer what data they wish to other users requesting it of them for a payment of SYN tokens. This may be as simple as where one spends their online attention.

For those wanting to learn more about the details of how this will work, this is not the space, but I would recommend consulting their whitepaper.

However, we at ICO101 aren’t here to promote but to educate and investigate. As it stands, I do have a few questions regarding this project:

One of my questions was asked by Aaron. It seems the success of Synapse.ai is predicated on data collectors agreeing to now pay for data they are already getting for free — or, far less believable — users rejecting their iPhones and Facebook accounts by refusing to sign off on the terms and conditions of use. There has to be an agreement from both data sellers and buyers on a fair attribution of value, and that Synapse.ai is the marketplace for such a transaction.

Gailey’s response:

“I wholeheartedly believe that the models that they’ve [Facebook, Amazon etc.] built, are fundamentally flawed, on the condition that this network is rolled out and people are participating in it.”

This is an important belief to hold if you are establishing a marketplace for data, and he is right, their models are flawed, at least in the way that they essentially vacuum up data from millions of people every day for free and then spin that data into further profit.

Aaron was not convinced that these tech giants will change their ways so easily, however. Neither am I. Aaron asked a version of, “Why would someone like Apple agree to start buying data they are receiving for free?”

Gailey again:

“What will happen is, the data that Apple can get by building this pipeline [to] you to participate in their network will have to comingle with the network that we’re building. I think we will see more and more companies adopting — in phased aspects — the network that we are trying to get [into] the hands of everyone.”

From this, it appears that it will be a slow and steady method of Synapse.ai collecting user’s data, at the user’s discretion for some time and then in the future perhaps an Apple or Facebook, or some company not yet thought of will come along and place value on these stores of data. At that point, that company may wish to participate in the data marketplace run by Synapse.ai.

However, who sets the value of my data, my attention? If it is a user-decided, say I believe my online activities for a week are worth xSYN tokens, what is stopping other people from valuing their online activity for a week at half that? Will my data still be worth purchasing? However, if it is the buyers or the governance layer of Synapse.ai who sets the value of my data, have I really taken ownership of anything? Am I not just being incentivised to give up more of myself for a small fee? Sure, this is better than the system we currently live under, but by how much?

Another problem that Synapse.ai faces is the problem of fraudulent or spammy data entry. As it currently stands, users are incentivised to share data but it is unclear how the system will safeguard against users inventing and submitting false data. There is a monetary incentive for people to add as much info as possible, true or false. This can simply be a problem in terms of clutter and fake accounts — similar to other data collection platforms like twitter and facebook right now — but there is also an ethical consideration.

The data, Synapse.ai wants to collect and trade in will be used for machine learning, it is in everyone’s interest that this machine learning is predicated on reliable and helpful information. An AI algorithm designed to provide information to you based on thousands of other users data will be corrupted and probably unhelpful if the data set was populated largely by Russian bots.

Overall I think machine learning, the attention economy and taking ownership of our data is are important and exciting areas, especially when paired with blockchain technology. Synapse.ai is one of a few promising start-ups attempting to provide solutions.

If you have answers to the questions above, please let us know in the comments!

 


With a hard cap of $15mil, Synapse.ai’s token sale is in stage 2 and is still live. Synapse.ai is offering free tokens when you sign up through this ICO101 exclusive link. Gailey mentioned that the developer portal is in early alpha and wallets are in development with the intention of being released before the end of the token sale on March 12th.

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Author: Glen Veitch

— Philosopher and explorer of the cryptosphere — Glen is a crypto enthusiast and graduate student living in Australia. He is currently completing his PhD in metaphysics at the University of Newcastle.

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