Paul-Oliver and Jerome, old high school friends, lost track of each other when they moved abroad but met again in Switzerland. Coincidence doesn’t exist! They decided to collaborate and to share their expertise and interest in artificial intelligence and personal data. About one and a half year ago they launched their own project and were chosen as one of the Pulse finalists.
The idea is simple: their company serves as a personal agent in order to protect or to control data for individuals. For example if you want to obtain your personal information, delete it, or object to companies from further processing it, just address your request to Chommy, the virtual personal assistant of the company.
A difficult and complex process
Paul-Oliver: “The average person doesn’t have a good understanding of what is out there when it comes to personal data, however, companies are collecting a lot of information nowadays: your local supermarket purchases, your online profile, social media activities or your Uber usage. The good news is that according to the law, you already have the right to know and to ask your data back from companies who keep or use it.
Unfortunately, it is still a very difficult and complex process. If you have an agent that speaks to you in an understandable way, that can help you frame your questions and knows where to find the right information, it could be a time saving and successful solution.
And that’s our added value. With a personal data service assistant we want to give people the flexibility to decide what they want to do with their information. We are not judging, we just help them in finding the data and build the right services for it.“
How does it actually work?
“We developed a deep understanding of the personal data system on a high level. We know how data flows, how the industry works but also how the apps and websites work. Next to this, we obtained legal knowledge in the field of data protection and are able to send legal requests in your name to companies to obtain the requested data.
Today companies are already obliged to respond and act to these kinds of requests, but practice shows that companies do not always act as expected. If I have to guess, I would say that at least 95 per cent of the companies are not aware about the applicable laws when you reach out to them. We have to educate them. Due to this complexity, we made the decision to currently offer customers only a few standardised data requests to a few companies. Of course we want to expand the service in the future so that we can target more companies and look into more diverse requests.”
“So far we had a huge media break through with a journalist who wanted to get her personal collected data from Tinder. We managed to get it back: 800 pages filled with a lot of information. After she published her article, we received a lot of similar requests. People wanted to know more about the profile built about them. Some of them even asked how to optimize their profile in order to get more dates on Tinder.”
Challenges and future plans
“We are already happy with the fact that people’s awareness of personal data has grown so much in the last two years. Everybody is however usually aware of the subject, because unfortunately there are so many (ethical) questions and issues around it. It has been a challenge for us to submit requests to companies on behalf of individuals and we experienced some difficulties with the companies, not everybody is willing to open up.
On the long-term, we want people to have as much control over their personal data as they have over their own chairs. This means for us that they can use it, sit on it as it was designed but when it’s broken they can fix and change it. And in the end you can all decide to take your chairs outside and make a party together. We would be satisfied when an individual finally has full control over their online personal data and even teams up with others in bigger cases.”
As a final note to other entrepreneurs, we would like to say: “If you think that the data requests we do could help your own company and if you think that the type of access to personal data mentioned above could help you jump-start your company, we are ready to help.”