Note: The following is excerpted from a grant application late 2017. It has not been edited for a general audience. It is shared publicly here to establish an origin for the broader vision of related work.
This project intends to foster a market context that supports a new approach for digital identity and data privacy. Initially a browser plugin is used to test behavioural hypotheses and latent demand. Facilitating such behaviours is expected to help structure and shift economic incentives so that users are in a position to own and control personal and pattern-of-life data. This work helps to validate the architectural design of a web protocol that will ultimately replace the experimental service with more robust and broadly applicable functionality.
Beyond any meaningful consent or control, the digital activities of your interactions online are recorded by Internet companies and agencies. These records exhibit your personal data which are used with algorithms to predict what media will likely capture your attention and which advertising will be most likely effective when presented to you. The digital content you experience is filtered and processed accordingly. This subsequently shapes your digital world in both targeted media and advertising.
Today, commercial agendas of Internet companies preside over your personal data. You lack control of your privacy and how your digital world may be overtly or subtly shaped. Fundamentally, this shaping occurs according to commercial priorities that are not yours but that belong to merchants because it is expedient and profitable for those who do the shaping.
Our children are increasingly immersed in their digital worlds. The formative digital experiences of our youth are becoming programmatically constrained, their choices commercially narrowed, and there is further potential for the misuse and abuse of personal data. Regulatory responses to privacy concerns are clumsy, ineffective or circumvented, and are sometimes in conflict with the interests of governmental regulators themselves. This reality is economically reinforcing because the generation of personal data proliferates beyond individual control, algorithms improve in predictive capability, and digital ad spending increases.
Businesses rely on this status quo and their monopolistic control of personal data because there are currently no better methods by which to promote user engagement with more relevant products and services in a targeted manner online. Additionally, a growing expectation from users for seamless and personalised digital experiences helps to entrench the success of platform businesses whose proprietary accumulation of personal data allows them to improve a collective quality of their products and services. As a consequence, competition is hindered by lacking incentives for data portability. This results in platform lock-in and substitution barriers for the individual. This leads to a fragmentation of personal data profiles across platforms and the need for individuals to manage multiple Single Sign-On accounts across the Web. The current model primarily benefits large companies whose data practices marginalise individual autonomy and competition in the market.
We need new architectures and business models that support programmatic boundaries which insulate from the intrusiveness of monitoring and the structuring of personal choice caused by unauthorised collection of personal data and the external prerogatives which shape our digital worlds. These systems will harbour the liberty for individuals to influence the shape of their digital worlds while protecting their privacy.
Ultimately businesses do not care for your personal data nor for the shape of your digital world. Rather the commercial objective is to show media and advertising which is more relevant to you. In the real world you signal for relevance with a contextual intent. For example, you wear different clothing and adopt professional mannerisms for a job interview. You establish contextual intent by virtue of the persona that you portray in order to influence how others perceive and interact with you. This persona is a combination of behaviours, characteristics, and other information that you express during contextual interaction with others.
Mwameme is a browser plugin that helps you automatically create and disclose a ‘mwameme’ /mwämēm/ to websites that you visit. A mwameme is a special type of data profile that is created by analysing digital footprints and predicting characteristics that describe personality and behaviour. It works like big data personality avatar or a digital persona which dynamically qualifies your digital presence. By targeting the mwameme that you share to websites, companies are able to better customise the content that you prefer to see without ever knowing or needing your personal data.
As a result of wanting to influence the form and content of their online experience, users adopt a central role in controlling their digital identity and privacy with the ability to source and graduate the disclosure of data or information. When the user is able to draw on a cross-contextual data footprint, mwamemes may be enriched using consolidated information for improved and higher quality personalisation with consent. This creates a commercial incentive to facilitate and reinforce user ownership and control of personal data across platforms thereby incentivising data portability, reducing barriers to competition, and improving profiling while respecting individual sovereignty.
A user may prefer to have one or many mwamemes which may also change over time. For example, a personal, family, or professional mwameme, or some synthesis thereof, may best tailor your digital experience for appropriate contexts. Associated behaviours in this regard would suggest the inevitability of a market for the generation and exchange of mwamemes. Such a market empowers unrealised digital freedom for individuals to selectively customise their experiential growth and affect who they may become. For example, a scholarly or artistic mwameme might be used to enrich the online experience of a learner or a celebrity may use their mwameme as an asset and sell their digital experience to fans. An ecology of mwamemes will prospectively emerge and this will lead to an unpredictable field of mwamemetic studies.
Integrated with the function of an adblocker, Mwameme obstructs the online advertising that you may be exposed to. Websites that request and are granted your mwameme have their ad delivery whitelisted but the user is always in control. These participating websites gain economic benefit by relying on the access to data that you disclose in order to enable and ultimately improve their ability for targeted interaction. This is similar to the Acceptable Ads program offered by existing adblockers. However, it operates without the editorial control of a middleman, and user participation is directly consented and central in determining what media and advertising is filtered to improve user engagement on an individual basis. At its core, this model does not solve all the issues of privacy unless it is paired with other technology. More powerfully, and in harmony with the intentions of European General Data Protection Regulation, it provides alternative economic means for user engagement that relies on consent by design and does necessitate the abuse of privacy in order achieve a commercial objective.
By stressing the economic significance of your mwamemes in this way, Mwameme is able to sustain itself while operating with collective interest in mind. A database of the mwamemes that are shared, those requested by recipient websites, will create a record of behavioural human presence or visitation over time spanning the Internet. For individuals and businesses alike, this provides a comparative and temporal reference, useful for enriching and contextualising the utility of mwamemes in future targeted interactions. Mwameme sells a privacy-preserving access to the real-time generation of these cultural records to companies who want to analyse mwameme records or predict group behaviours spanning the Web. Consider also that these records are a shared asset of humanity and must ultimately become accessible to all.
The experimental service operates with a terminal mandate to validate and protect the domain for a free and open data transfer protocol that will connect user endpoints with content servers while empowering mutual data autonomy.