Data: To Share or Not to Share


TechCrunch Disrupt

A recurring theme during the fireside chats during 2015 Techcrunch Disrupt in New York was about data: how to secure it, where to store it and what to do with it.

The conversation has been a long and ongoing one. Multiple new startups are figuring out ways to deal with these issues:

–  CloudWear, a finalist in Startup Battlefield, is securing data by using location based APIs to lock out hackers

–  Containership, a new hosting platform, is finding new ways to store data

–  Wellth is using your health data to give you financial rewards and save insurance companies money

While we are solving many of these issues head on, one discussion is still just a talking point on stage and largely unresolved: what and how much data should a start-up be sharing?

‘Big data’ is the in-vogue theme right now and we know it’s a big reason behind the huge valuations that startups are getting, so what should the rules be around the sharing of this valuable and insightful data? Is there a moral obligation to share data if it helps government define better policy or enables private companies to provide better services to the public? What if the data highlights law-breakers? Of course this should be reported and people held accountable… but is that even the case, if a user of Waze is speeding along a highway – should that driver really be worried about being caught by police through their use of Waze? Now suddenly the data discussion seems very real and relevant.

Some interesting thought emerged from the stage: Ron Conway of SV Angel was fiercely in the corner of “sharing is not required”because, among other things, it is against the principles of confidentiality in the user-business relationship. These views may reflect his personal interest / investment in Airbnb, a company facing immense pressure to share huge amounts of their data, with very serious negative revenue/user consequences. Fred Wilson of USV, who shared the stage with Conway, had a differing view: if companies were to give over more data, than the less they would be not scrutinized and vilified. He used two key words:‘anonymized’ and ‘aggregated.’ -This would maintain the user–business privacy code, so surely that’s the solutions? Conway didn’t budge. Again, this not only comes down to defining policy and being transparent, butis also about giving up key aspects of what makes you valuable as a company.

During his fireside chat Aaron Levie, CEO of Box, seemed to have found the perfect solution for companies: the encryption key that is controlled by the customer.

Technically, this was a by-product of an enterprise solution Box found for risk-averse companies that are scared to move to the cloud due to security and confidentiality concerns. His solution means that companies obligated to give user data would be able to pass the decision back to the platform’s customers.Levie called it stopping the ‘backdoor’ access to data. It will be interesting to see if this takes off.

As founder of OpenSponsorship, a start-up that in the long run is looking forward to large valuations based on accumulation, usability and value of data; how would we feel about having to opening up access to our data for moral or legal purposes? And given the sheer number of data scientists in the startup industry, I assume a large majority of startups will be thinking about such consequences. The debate around sharing is not going away anytime soon, and with industry leaders on opposites of the aisle, it seems the courts might be the ones dictating the future of Airbnb and many more startups in the years to come.


Image credit: CC by BTO – Buy Tourism Online powered by BTO Education

About the author: Ishveen Anand

Ishveen Anand is the founder and CEO OpenSponsorship, a two-sided marketplace connecting brands to the worlds’ largest network of sponsorship opportunities in professional sports. Ishveen, a graduate of Oxford University, is of Indian-British origin and now lives in New York. She was included in the Forbes 30under30 sports list in 2015 and OpenSponsorship was named a finalist in the 2015 Sports Technology Awards.

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