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The use of personally-identifiable information (PII) by technology firms has become the subject of considerable policy debate. Firms see it in their economic interest to collect the data in order to sell higher-priced, more targeted ads, to potentially improve service delivery, or to become an acquisition target. To differentiate themselves against competitors such firms may collect even more PII in more intrusive ways. This data allows firms with access to PII to identify individuals with high resolution. As more firms have collected more PII, and awareness of abuses by a small fraction of firms has risen, a backlash to the tech sector has grown, effectively creating a “race to the bottom” in which the entire industry collectively loses.
In March Omidyar Network intends to kick off the process to support, encourage and incentivize entrepreneurs to take a different path - a Race to the Top. We believe that an increased focus on models that enhance user control, individual empowerment and provide for privacy can lead to a virtuous cycle of innovation that is good for business and good for people.
At the Identiverse conference in June ON proposes to illustrate the concept with a panel discussion and to introduce two toolkits to operationalize Race to the Top: a framework to support early-stage VCs as they consider potential investments in entrepreneurs that manage PII, and a toolkit for entrepreneurs themselves. The panel will include other examples of entrepreneurs and investors who model the principles and practices described in Race to the Top.