A series of recent high-profile privacy-related controversies have demonstrated the growing power of public pressure in protecting personally identifiable information (PII) from increasingly invasive surveillance, the founder of an Australian privacy-related startup has observed on the back of a $3.2m seed funding round that piggybacks on growth in awareness of privacy issues.
Issues such as the recent Apple-FBI battle over iPhone privacy, and the European Union's recent high-profile cessation of Safe Harbor policies controlling trans-border data flow with US-based companies, had “made people stand up and think 'wow – maybe people do have power, and can stand up and push for change',” Meeco founder and CEO Katryna Dow told CSO Australia.
“People understand that there is a conversation happening around access to personal data. And we've been thinking for a while that if data was to be made available, we need a way for customers and students to get hold of that data and use it in a meaningful way in their lives – and to get a track and audit trail of who has that data and how it's being used.”
This thinking led Dow and her team of developers – split between Adelaide and Sydney – to construct a software platform for managing personal data throughout its lifecycle. Using an approach that she refers to as 'the API of Me', users of Meeco's technology – available as an iOS app for iPhones or Web apps for browsers and Android phones – can both control what personal information they share with third-party sites, and track how that information is used throughout its lifecycle.
Although Meeco is an Australian company, strong interest in privacy issues within the EU led Dow to first target the UK market, where she says there was “a burning platform” as increasingly privacy-aware governments had put the squeeze on companies hoping to utilise PII. Changes such as new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the introduction of Safe Harbor's replacement – Privacy Shield, which is expected to increase enterprise IT spending and the dispersal of fines for the more than half of companies who admit they are unprepared for the changes – had created a fertile market in Europe that was rapidly translating into Australian market opportunities as well.
The newly secured seed funding, which came from a syndicate of private investors, will see the team's technologies expanded, the opening of a new European office, and its Europe-Australian R&D arm, Meeco Labs, better resourced to work with governments and businesses to explore new scenarios for application of Meeco's 'life management' technologies.
“For current and future generations, data – particularly identity and reputation data – is going to end up being as valuable as currency,” Dow said. “The ability for us to derive value from that will only be possible if we have the ability to control it and contextualise it. Meeco [makes] the individual an equal participant in the value created, controlling the use of his or her personal data derived from every day occurrences and transactions.”
Despite growing concern about privacy in the US – brought to a fore by the recently-vacated dispute between Apple and the FBI over iPhone personal data and a host of similar cases – that market's relatively loose legislation had made it a longer-term priority for Meeco's expansion, although Dow says her visits to that country have turned up “some really interesting enabling technologies” and paved the way for potential technology partners to support its worldwide growth.
The emerging flood of Internet of Things (IoT) devices had created a new market opportunity for Meeco as the flow of PII between increasingly connected devices also needed to be controlled.
“Each of those devices is going to have different opportunities to manage privacy, and manufacturers are going to be hoping they can scrape up that data for their own use,” Dow said. “But the ability for us to derive value from that will only be possible if we have the ability to control it and contextualise it.”
“We have a very strong case for working with organisations directly and representing the individual. The only way that this issue can be solved is if the individual is part of the value chain, and that they are a partner in the same way.”
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