Master theses

Personal data vaults: techno-economic analysis and potential impact on the data ecosystem

Keywords: SOLID, data ecosystem, digital platforms, engineering economy, information technology , techno-economic analysis, personal data vaults

Supervision: Ruben Verborgh Sofie Verbrugge

Students: max 1

Over the last years, our society has evolved into a data-driven economy, and that won’t change anytime soon. Companies, start-ups, organisations, and governments all require some of our data to provide us with the services we want and need. This has led to an increased power for big platform players like Google, Facebook, etc.

An alternative solution could be based on a new ecosystem of personal data, in which every person has their own personal data vault, which we refer to as a data pod. Think of a data pod as a virtual drive to which you as an individual hold the keys. Your data pod can then store and safeguard the data that you produce as well as the data that companies and organisations produce about you. As the controller of your data pod, you can decide for every piece of data which parties you want to share it with. This way, companies can get access to specific data without writing or collecting it themselves, while respecting every individual’s preferences. The SOLID standard provides a very promising solution for the potential implementation of personal data pods and the ecosystem around it.

Opting for this set-up of the ecosystem can reshape the existing power relations, it can enable innovation by small players and it can provide an opportunity for the government to set some standards for the way this data is structured, stored and shared.The goal of this thesis is to improve the understanding of the cost structure behind the SOLID solution and to understand the impact of the different approaches the government can take towards implementing this solution on the resulting cost-benefit trade-off (e.g. will they force service providers to implement data pods according to the SOLID standard or will they centralize the data pods and force service providers to communicate with this centralized solution, etc.). The research within this thesis consists of several steps:

  • Description of the SOLID solution as a multi-sided platform consisting of at least 3 user segments: citizens/customer, data pod providers (e.g. government, but potentially also private data providers), service providers in different application domains (mostly private). Comparison of this situation to current situations, e.g. where a Dropbox or Google account provides access to different apps/services.
  • Identification of value of SOLID towards different users (apps, services), identification of what incentivizes them to sync to datapods rather than duplicating this information in their own platforms.
  • Overview of cost structure of the SOLID implementation, including infrastructure cost (shared platform cost versus direct cost related to a certain service offer, fixed platform cost versus variable cost related to the adding a single customers, ..) and process cost to set-up and maintain the SOLID-based data ecosystem. Next to that, also the costs at the different user sides (citizens, service providers, data providers) will be investigated. This can e.g. highlight a reduced transaction cost for a customer when he switches from one service to a competing one, or the loss of control and related increased costs for a big commercial platform that will no longer be storing personalized data on its own servers or will no longer be sending this data over its own backbone network.
  • Identification of different potential scenarios for the role of the government, e.g. setting up a actual data utility company and quantifying the related potential cost-benefit trade-offs.

Whereas the first steps include conceptual research, based on literature review, discussions with potential stakeholders and providing qualitative insights, the later steps in the thesis include making quantitative assessments about cost impact based on a software implementation of the cost model. The overall outcome of the thesis can lead to actual guidelines for governments on how to behave within the new data ecosystem.