The challenge is to find ways to fund the kind of research and advocacy we're doing here at Open Digital without becoming enslaved by any single person or organisation.
If you can help in any way, by:
- Spreading the word
- Employing the services of our consulting arm, Open Digital Consulting (bound by charter to donate at least 50% of its profits to the policy organisation)
- Becoming a donor, shareholder or both
The funding conundrum
As I said at last Wednesday's Digital Surrey, as an organisation we must avoid some of the pitfalls of other groups working on digital policy.
Read more about some of the pitfalls of policy funding here.
Data ethics - why should your business care?
What's in it for your business, when much of our work seems to be focussed on public interest?
Because I firmly believe public concern must be embraced by any digital business aiming for sustainability.
The long term interest of any sustainable business is closely aligned with the interests of its consumers. It's as simple as that.
If you want to make money from the processing of, and trade in, data about individuals you will benefit from the trust and support of those individuals.
Acting in a highly ethical manner is the key to gaining trust, and even ethical businesses need help and support convincing the world of their ethical credentials. If your business aims to do more than make a quick buck it needs to take proactive steps towards understanding the issues.
Our organisation's own plan for long term sustainability
My plan is to make Open Digital a sustainable self-funding organisation, but it will take time to get to this stage, and therefore we need cash help getting there.
I believe the organisational structure will then promote policy research in the public interest through semi-independent oversight of the policy organisation by our Policy Advisory Council (PAC).
Our structure also minimises the impact of cash dependency. Our founding charter guarantees the policy organisation will receive 50% of the profits from the consulting business, and the PAC gets to decide how this is spent.
|Open Digital - structured to promote community interest|
The first 9 months
For a fledgling policy organisation with only very weak connections to the political scene we've had an amazing start. I attended ministerial meetings with Communications Minister Ed Vaizey to discuss web blocking, plus a 5-minute interview on Sky News' Jeff Randall Live on the same subject.
Our first report (pdf) was referenced in print on page 2 of the Financial Times and has been cited in numerous other reports. I've been quoted on privacy, security and copyright issues in most major computer magazines.
I'm also told that our paper arguing against the government's plans for a Public Data Corporation (pdf) helped persuade decision makers inside the Cabinet Office to shelve the plans, opting instead for a more open approach to public data.
Aims and forthcoming projects
(More information on our Standardised Personal Data License project)
Our long term goal is to improve trust in digital products and services for the benefit of all; we believe this can be done whilst maintaining the principle of a free and open internet through fair market competition.
One of the barriers to trust we have identified is clarity and transparency over what data about us is being gathered and how that data is being used and traded.
Only through clarity and understanding can consumers make informed choices about what level of personal information to share with any given service.
If personal data is the new digital currency, a catchphrase many are using, we currently have a confusopoly in the market place.
In a confusopoly, the "price" of using the service is transparent, but too confusing for consumers to understand. Therefore consumers make bad choices, and less than ethical businesses are able to profiteer.
A project we hope to launch over summer aims to iconify privacy, bringing clarity to users to help cut through the confusopoly. It's been tried before, but that is not going to stop us:
Note, the icons pictured are just examples. We want to rank privacy on a simple scale of 1-6, maybe adding additional information to distinguish between passive tracking and active data gathering.
The final icon design will be decided through a community project, and that itself introduces a challenge of ownership in the end result. We need intellectual property in the icons to prevent misuse, but the community needs to see that Open Digital will never profit unduly from a community project.
We therefore propose to hold the intellectual property in the icons in trust.
If you run a business or are a reasonably wealthy individual with an interest in privacy, trust or digital policy, please consider becoming a donor-shareholder.
Significant shareholders get a seat at the table of our truly unique organisation, and a chance to share in half the profits if we achieve our aims.
Alternatively, if your business wants insight or training on any digital policy area, please consider using the services of Open Digital Consulting. Part of our fee will go towards supporting our policy work.
And above all, if you like what we're doing, please spread the word and get involved. Tell us about your concerns. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or engage with us on Twitter: @open_digital.