Data portability illustrations_Page_4

I step in through the front door – it’s nice, tastefully decorated. The lights are on full, too bright, and the noise from the street is a little louder than the profile on EtherBedroom suggested. It’s almost a home from home but not yet. I unclip my baggage tag from my suitcase, and I tap it to the sensor on the wall just inside the front door. Immediately the lights dim and my favourite music floats through the integrated speaker system. I relax.

What is it?

Here we looked at what literal data portability could mean: data from services and platforms which you can carry around on a physical device, in this case a baggage tag with the ability to record, store, and share on-demand data about your travels.

With such a device you could interact with other devices either in a rental property, or terminals that can be found in public spaces throughout a city. Touching the tag to specific devices and terminals shares data temporarily, and only at the point of use.

The data stored on the tag acts as a reflection of its owner’s preferences, needs and history. Potentially you could refine personal data about you so that it becomes more representative and accurate.

In the context of short-term rentals and peer-to-peer accommodation, a key function of this application of data portability is the ability for users to bring their home settings with them to their rented accommodation and apply those same settings upon arrival. Preferences could include your ideal temperature, light settings, voice interaction settings, account details for streaming services, home automation preferences – bringing your bubble with you.

We also explored the idea of a public terminal for similar applications. A physical device that resides in public spaces in our cities, it acts as a focal point for the dissemination of ‘personalised’ information about the local/wider area – communicating relevant information to users based on the data on their tag.

How does it work? How is it related to portability?

Users could populate their portable device with data from the platforms of their choosing. Augmenting it with personal data, some of which might be sensitive, and decisions they’d like to remember.

This data collected from disparate sources can then be tended to by the user, pruning, editing, deleting, adding elements. The user is empowered to take control over this data and how it represents them.

The data/device is then carried on the user as a physical manifestation of their digital self. It can be used to interact with other digital objects within the physical world to aid the user in decision-making, pathfinding and general interactions, yet leaving no trace behind.

Because the user can choose whatever they would like to curate or store on the device, the possibilities for what data it stores are numerous but could include:

  • Physical preferences – for example temperature, light levels, walking pace
  • Entertainment preferences – for example music service account details, “how i like my coffee”, etc.
  • Web search history
  • Medical history
  • Purchase history

Benefits and risks

Exploring this scenario, we were intrigued by how this baggage tag might become a medium by which user preferences for a multitude of things may be literally carried around – how you like your coffee, your home automation settings, music playlists, etc. The baggage tag won’t resolve differences between groups of travellers though – human interaction would still be needed.

The concept of the tag seemed to come with convenience and consistency: by carrying your history and preferences all the time, it voids the need to reset your environment everywhere you go. An added convenience would be if the public terminals could double as knowledge resources for the area.

This disaggregation from the platforms where these preferences are typically stored points to a number of interesting benefits, including a greater control over personal data. It also may lead to a greater understanding of data sharing: by making data more tangible, and sharing a physical activity rather than something one has to pursue within complicated settings in a software environment, the device can help us get a better grasp of what data about us gets used, shared and stored, when, and how.

On the other hand, without significant yet easy mechanisms for authentication of the user, this scenario raises serious privacy and security concerns if the tag were to be lost. Variants of this scenario, where data can be exchanged through contactless methods, could lead to fraudulent skimming of data from devices hanging from luggage, and even identity theft.

Another risk is that, by virtue of the tag storing and providing access to extensive, rich data, it could lead to services collecting more data than they need, abusing the lack of granularity of how the data is requested and shared from the baggage tag.

Finally, we foresee a risk that such technology might isolate us from the world, leaving us in an echo chamber: this ability to take your bubble with you everywhere would mean even less chance for serendipity or ever being placed slightly outside your comfort zone.

How far in the future could this be?

Technically speaking, this is achievable today. Indeed, almost all of the capabilities we ascribed to the data tag could be replicated through software on smartphones, although it is always worth noting that smartphone ownership is not universal, even in rich societies.

Whether for a physical tag or for apps, realising the benefits of this scenario while avoiding its risks requires developing new sharing standards, and addressing privacy and security issues.