In 2009, Shane Green left the mobile giant Nokia for a new venture: Personal. Green calls it the first “people-centric data platform.” At the heart of the D.C.-based company’s system is an individual data vault—a place that allows consumers to aggregate all of the available data on their own life, and then choose whether or not they’d like to share it.
“We’re a data agnostic platform,” says Green. “We think that people should be at the center of this equation, controlling their data and then deciding who gets access to it.”
In Green’s vision, Personal will work a bit like a matchmaking service. It serves as the intermediary to connect consumers with relevant advertisers, and anyone else who may want to reach them, based on the preferences set by the consumer.
“It kind of turns the whole model on its head,” he says.
It’s a piece of Personal’s platform that’s due out later this year and one the company thinks could have an application in the campaign world down the road. Personal is also poised to play a role in the privacy debate swirling on Capitol Hill.
Moving into the campaign space is far from the company’s focus, but it is something Green and his team have been discussing for months now. C&E recently sat down with Personal’s CEO to talk about how it might work.
C&E: Can you talk a bit more about the match-based marketplace and how it works?
Shane Green: Think of a matchmaking service—you have two sides trying to meet each other and the matchmaking service is trying to do all it can to understand both parties. What we’re building out is this idea that individuals are going to become very savvy very soon about which of their data is commercially relevant. Think about your next vacation. At every stage of making your decision on where to go and where to stay, there’s a group of people who want to reach you—resorts, airlines, etc. They’re spending tons of money trying to reach you. In our model, people will learn how to express some of that data in a way that actually attracts the very people they want to talk to. The data doesn’t get out. The data is only used by the matching service—which is us—to do the connecting. We believe there will eventually be true compensation to consumers as part of the process of finding relevant opportunities. The real question is why are you paying all these inefficient channels to reach me?
C&E: So where might there be a space in the campaign market for Personal?
Green: At the end of the day, the model of finding people who really have an interest or a likely interest in whatever your candidate or organization is about really applies here. The ability to connect with them, and then provide them exactly the kind of information they care about, at a time and place they want, is something with real promise. The most interesting question in my mind is the money aspect of it. All of the TV broadcast channels and online folks are getting paid lots of money to disrupt us with a 98 percent failure rate. Does the same conclusion that we’ve drawn in the commercial sphere end up applying in the political sphere? Why can’t a consumer’s time and engagement get compensated? I think that’s clearly a controversial idea. Is there money to be had for watching a candidate’s 30-minute speech on the environment?
C&E: That would upend the entire ad model in politics. Why in the world would they want the voter in control of that?
Green: I think we hear the exact same story and dynamic in any online or mobile advertising that exists today. The real answer is what you see in all disruptive innovation, which is that the existing players in the space are so wedded to the current model. I get that. But when a new model comes along and it provides total privacy and creates near total relevance—and ultimately shifts the dollars toward you instead of the channels that are trying to disrupt you—people have to respond. I don’t think most people think of campaigns as trying to target them in the same way a commercial product or service might. I think we have to acknowledge that virtually every practice that’s decried on the Hill about companies and what they do is already happening in campaigns. There’s an intrinsic tension there, and I think it ought to be discussed more publicly.