If you’ve ever gotten one of those letters from your bank or insurance company that says, “Ooops, we got breached and your data is now in the hands of Russian hackers and we’re very sorry/not sorry, but you can’t sue us because we pay off legislators for legal immunity we don’t deserve, and here’s some identity protection insurance our lawyers and PR firms told us to offer you…” then perhaps you can see the value in controlling your own data. Indeed, letting citizens control who sees their data is at the heart of privacy legislation and related consumer advocacy efforts.
The problem has been execution. It’s one thing to say that people should be in charge of their data privacy. Realizing such a concept is entirely another matter. To date, the responsibility and power over data privacy been in the hands of the data custodians, the Equifaxes and Anthems of the world, rather than individuals. This is the challenge that The @ Company is embracing. The early stage venture has developed a new protocol that enables everyone to manage access to their private information, for free.
While the underlying technology for The @ Company’s protocol is highly complex, the end result is easy to understand. Anyone can sign up for a free @name identifier, which functions as a sort of DNS for people. If any person, corporate entity or public sector organization wants access to your data, they request it through your @sign. Then, using a blockchain-driven key management system based on your smart device, you can grant or deny access to your private data to the requestor.
“It’s a real time peer-to-peer architecture,” explained CEO Barbara Tallent. “As a result, no one has your data except you and whomever you share it with using the protocol. The @ Company isn’t storing your data. Only you hold and control who gets to see your private data.” The P2P architecture also makes the technology relatively for companies to adopt. They don’t have to invest in servers or databases to make it work.
The company offers an array of developer tools and back end functionality to make it possible for enterprises and software developers to incorporate The @ Company protocol into their functionality. They can potentially further monetize their protocol by selling custom @ identifiers and licensing their technology in various ways.
The @ Company has developed a solid solution for some thorny data privacy problems. It’s a very ambitious vision, and that may be a problem for them. Success depends on broad adoption, and that may be difficult to pull off in this day and age of dollar-per-impression online ads. Big platforms like Facebook and major financial institutions would have to buy into it as well, and they may not be so keen, given their reliance on grabbing your data to make money.
The company also has a branding challenge on its hands, in my view. They are facing a real “boil the ocean” scenario if they want to distinguish themselves from Twitter, with its @ aliases, and email in general, which has been using the @ sign for decades. These are solvable issues, however. I hope it works, because I’m tired of getting those “We got breached, too bad for you” letters.