Fjord sees personal info as tomorrow’s connected currency

Olof Schybergson - CEO, Fjord	 at Mobilize 2011On Monday at GigaOM’s Mobilize 2011 event, Olof Schybergson, CEO of leading design firm Fjord, took to the stage to discuss the thin line between love and hate that smart services tread when dealing with a customer’s personal data. The question is then how to get users to feel good about giving up data in exchange for better services.

Schybergson described a research product undertaken by his firm that will take place over three years, and discussed the results so far from the initial year and a half. He said that his company’s study is different from many others because it looks at both the technical and human aspects of smart services and connected devices. The technical aspects involve how many devices people use to access smart services, what kind, how often, etc. These are easily measured. The human aspects are less tangible, and involve things like mood, etiquette, culture and group dynamics.

The interplay between the two can drastically change a user’s attitude towards connected services. It’s easy to think that as tech gets smarter–better able to judge your context and surrounding using your personal data–it should also better serve users, and therefore result in a better overall user experience. But that’s not the case, says Schybergson. In fact, just as in robotics, there’s an uncanny valley when it comes to smart services; users react negatively to apps collecting and using too much of their personal data if the reward is not high enough to justify said collection. A great recent example is Facebook’s facial recognition service for tagging photos. Many users and media outlets thought it constituted an excessive violation of privacy, not a desirable feature.

To overcome this natural human reaction to the oversharing of data, Schybergson says we need to rethink our approach to mobile apps and smart services in a number of ways:

  1. The user is the OS. Rather than residing in the cloud or in the device, the locus of control needs to be in the user when it comes to smart services. All other devices and services orbit the user, not one another.
  2. Privacy is currency. Increasingly, customers will exchange their privacy in order to achieve real, tangible rewards. The payback needs to match what companies are asking for in return, and provide tangible benefits like quality of life improvements, time-saving, and other rewards.
  3. Digital becomes physical. Smart services need to mesh with our phsyical environment in ways that make them more invisible in order to make users more comfortable. One example Schybergson provided was a system through which meal options could be presented to kids in the backseat of a car through interactive displays on the way home from school.
  4. The mashup needs orchestrators. The combination of smart services fed by personal data won’t happen on its own, and is not necessarily a natural evolution of where we are today. It needs people creating products that are designed specifically to accomplish the above.

I think Schybergson’s most interesting point is that companies need to recognize that customers are now aware their information has a real, tradable value. That means that any request for sharing of that info will be met with a check versus the value of the reward being offered, and passing that check will be the key to the future of success for any smart, connected cross-device service.

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