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The Personal Data Warehouse

  • April 01 2002, 1:00am EST

A nontechnical friend of mine recently sent me a news item on the new radio frequency identity (RFID) chips that can be implanted beneath the human skin to carry and transmit information. These chips transmit data in response to a scan by a device emitting specific wavelengths of RF energy. The initial uses for the RFID chips include providing medical teams with identification information for incapacitated people with potentially fatal allergic reactions to commonly used medical treatments such as antibiotics. In other countries, such as Brazil, RFIDs are being targeted to identify and potentially locate kidnapping victims.

It is estimated that the RFID market will eventually be worth $70 billion annually. The company that makes them has even trademarked the term "getting chipped."

Along with the news story, my friend sent me a question. He wondered if these devices would soon become our personal data warehouses, filled with our life's store of information.

I told him that a better design would be to have the chip simply carry the person's identity information, including biometrics such as DNA, iris scan, thumbprint, earprint, etc. This would ensure that the chip belonged to the person who had it. The chip would also include an encrypted key that would allow access to the carrier's personal data warehouse on a secure server. This would allow the personal data warehouse to be scalable and portable across changing technology platforms.

Does people volunteering to have ID chips implanted and all of their life data stored in one place sound far- fetched?

I believe it is much closer than you may think and that the barriers to adoption may not be as high as you might first believe.

Undoubtedly, there will be a large segment of the population who will refuse to "get chipped."

Others, such as those who have experienced the convenience of having a toll-road transponder instead of stopping to pay with cash, will be highly enamored with the speed and convenience aspects of walking quickly through security and identity checkpoints.

Others will be interested in the Brazilian scenario, where the combination of global positioning systems (GPSs) and RFID systems will allow people to be located anywhere. I anticipate that many parents will opt to have this system implanted in their children, especially if they consider them at-risk for kidnapping.

Many similar trade-offs will be made regarding the integration and hosting of a personal data warehouse.

Many people will resist and refuse to allow any dedicated centralized collection of data about their day-to-day lives.

Others will realize that the information is already being collected by nearly every business they interact with in their modern lives. They will see the opportunity to provide an important information- quality function by having a master set of information that they can edit to ensure that all data is accurate, rather than the hodgepodge of out-of-date, inaccurate nonintegrated partial data sets scattered across the commercial landscape that exist today.

Others will realize that the data that is being collected today about them is only enabling others to make money. These people will understand that instead of the consumer paying the bill for others to collect data about them, they can instead own their personal data and charge businesses for the privilege of accessing it.

Would a business pay to access your personal data warehouse?

Think about the cost of searching for and identifying potential customers that have needs, habits, buying patterns, income levels, family-unit demographics, location, interests and predispositions that match your product or service. Now think about the much lower costs if you could simply query a personal data warehouse for a low fee to see if this was the right customer for your product.

Some will be terrified at the prospect of their medical records being centralized in their personal data warehouse, regardless of the encryption or security technology employed.

Others will recognize that all of our medical records are already centralized in a database that is used by all major medical insurers to prevent fraud and double billings. These people will welcome the prospect of being able own their centralized medical history and, for the first time, have the ability to ensure its accuracy, own its security and know who is accessing it. They will also enjoy the ability to walk into any pharmacy, doctor's office or emergency room in the country and have the attending medical professionals be instantly fully informed about their medical history, conditions, diagnosis and currently prescribed medications.

Many will refuse to believe that any encrypted key that would protect their personal data warehouse, regardless of bit-length, could be immune from cracking.

Others, like me, may acknowledge that cracking could be possible. But I think, in the end, I will take my chances with my own personal data warehouse. I know that all the data about me is already out there. I just don't know where it is or who is looking at it.

Anybody else ready to get chipped?

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