What you need to know
Think you own the data you create in the digital environment? Think again.
People nowadays are constantly posting on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and all kinds of social media platforms. But who owns the data generated on these platforms? Or on a larger scope, who has ownership over data created in the digital environment?
Taiwan-based startup Bitmark believes there is currently an unbalanced relationship between companies and individuals in the digital environment. People don’t realize there is an ambiguity in ownership over data, and therefore losing opportunities to create wealth through their digital assets.
Bitmark is aiming to change this.
“I want you to have freedom over your data. This means is you can choose. Do you want to protect it? Or do you want to sell it? It’s your choice. You’re in control,” says Sean Moss-Pultz, CEO of Bitmark. “Until the individual can own data, there won’t be much wealth created.”
The company is one of the 12 Taiwan startups showcasing in TechCrunch Disrupt NY, and The News Lens spoke with Moss-Pultz to learn more about Bitmark and the concept driving it.
The News Lens: To start off, can you please explain what Bitmark is and what it does?
Sean Moss-Pultz: We make tools to let people live freer. Right now in our digital world, we are giving away all this data to companies like Facebook and Instagram. This data has been used to sell us stuff, to figure out what we’re going to do, not really manipulate us, but it has been used to sell us stuff.
This kind of common sense of ownership, like if you create something it should be yours, you should have an easy way to tell people that hey this is yours. And if somebody does something with your stuff that you don’t like you should be able to easily say hey don’t do that. In the physical environment we have hundreds of years of law, known as property law, that establish property rights for individuals to own things, to use ownership as a tool to create wealth, to be empowered for freedom.
We have a global way to assign ownership to a piece of data. It doesn’t change the data, but you’re essentially assigning a unique identifier to that data. Like your car has a VIN. So what we’re building from a legal technical perspective is a register of ownership of who has what.
TNL: What inspired you to start Bitmark?
Moss-Pultz: I was going to have a son and started thinking about what I could leave him if I died. I was thinking about my Twitter account and emails, but in the digital environment, who owns what is completely ambiguous. Facebook, Google, Instagram, and all these companies just claim ownership over this stuff. It’s creating an environment, that we (Bitmark) believe is making us substantially less free.
If you look at one of the big drivers of wealth, it’s the ability to own things. If you can’t own things, then how do you create wealth? If that’s not your photo, then how do you sell it? So we’re making tools that would allow regular individuals to establish ownership over digital assets and content.
TNL: What is the current status of Bitmark?
Moss-Pultz: We have a private beta now, and we’re working on moving to a public beta over the next few months.
We also have plans to work with researchers at the school of public health at UC Berkeley. The data in the health kit app in your phone is useful information to these researchers. We’re looking to encourage people to donate this data for the research purposes, and hoping that by doing so they will gradually understand the value of the data they generate.
TNL: What are the challenges Bitmark has seen so far?
Moss-Pultz: Our challenge is first, people don’t know they have a problem, so they definitely don’t know what our solution is. You don’t own digital things, but you think you own them, and our software will let you own digital things. It’s a really hard thing to get off the ground. How can I first let you know that you can own your data? And can I give you something, or can I let you feel good about it once you own your data?
TNL: How are you funding Bitmark?
Moss-Pultz: We closed a seed round towards the end of last year. Our goal was to raise US$1 million, but we ended up closing US$1.7 million.
TNL: What are your expectations of TechCrunch Disrupt NY?
Moss-Pultz: So our biggest challenge is, as we go from the private beta to the public beta, how to get people to know about us. And my goal (at TechCrunch Disrupt NY) would be to talk to more journalists to get them to tell this larger story that in this internet where we think we’re free, we’re actually not. It’s a very dark situation if you step back and think about it.
TNL: You have been in Taiwan for around 13 years. Do you see any problems in the local startup industry?
Moss-Pultz: I think Taiwan has a few serious problems as a market. First of all, you can’t do anything commerce-related. There are no third party payments. There’s nothing that deals with any kind of commerce. It’s really dangerous because Taiwan will lose a whole generation of internet companies.
In the semiconductor days, Taiwan was super innovative. The government strategy really helped the companies get off the ground. But when it comes software, they just deeply don’t understand.
The News Lens was sponsored by Taiwan Startup Stadium to attend TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017.
Editor: Edward White