At Ethi, we want to put individuals in control of their personal data, and help them use that data to transform their lives and the world.
The Core Problem Tech companies spend billions collecting and analysing your data, and then just use it to sell advertising and improve their bottom line. They’re not in any hurry to let you understand what is happening with your own data, or use it to improve your life. It’s as if they think they own it, instead of you. Currently, data management is based on the premise that data is an asset to be locked away. It’s true that “Personal data is an asset”, but we believe data is most powerful when it’s an active, participatory part of people’s lives. Data should empower users to learn more about themselves, engage in meaningful discussions with friends and family, and drive positive change in their communities. When data is fully user-centric, it becomes a tool for action, rather than a passive record of the past. It becomes a lens through which we understand the world, and through which we can actually effect positive change. Who needs to control and use their data? Everyone! Especially those who are disempowered online.
This is a new concept for the general public. However, for the 81% of the population who feel they have very little or no control over their own data (Pew, 2019), it’s an enormous source of frustration. If there was a way to bring their data under their control, they would want to know about it. More specifically, individuals who want to be able to learn and share things about themselves with only their friends and family, without their data being sold to companies that make billions of dollars selling ads The same goes for anyone who cares about freedom of speech, health and science, politics and government, education, or technology itself. A lot of people are interested in their own data and how it can be used.
Ethi's Key Insights We came to realise that ownership is the most important principle for data users. If you believe your data belongs to you and not an outside company, then you’re going to want to make decisions about what happens to it. At the same time, we realised that the concept of a “personal data ecosystem” is far too abstract and confusing for most people. People really just want to use their data to make their lives better in very concrete ways. Data becomes most powerful when users understand it and control how it’s used. To achieve that, data needs to be more than just a record of the past, it needs to be a tool for action. A tool for action has to help people understand themselves and the world around them. It also needs to empower them to use that data in positive ways, for their own benefit and the benefit of others. Seeing data as a tool for action allows us to see and talk about data in a new way. It can be thought of as a core building block for solving problems. People’s data is scattered across different sites and services, and each has its own interface and model. There are also many different ways to use data usefully.
This made us realise that the future of data will be defined by a suite of tools, that provide concrete, hands-on benefits to individuals. These will be action-oriented services, rather than abstract concepts. They will help people make real changes in their lives, by creating solutions to real problems, using personal data.
What is Ethi currently working on? Why should you be excited? The first is one we’re calling EthiX, and it's a browser extension that brings the world's most advanced AI into your everyday life, in the browser. will really change people’s lives This is the idea of putting data and context at the centre of what we do on a day-to-day basis. The same data can have drastically different meanings at different times. Rather than forcing people to remember or interpret data, their personal AI system can find what's relevant, extract what it means and give them actionable options.
We want to speed up and improve our day-to-day lives by providing relevant suggestions and automating boring tasks.
We want analyse the most important things in people’s lives, whether that’s nutrition, exercise, career, or education, and recommend products, content and services to users that fulfil their real needs. We could provide the best personalised tools and support, whether that’s a health-tracking app, online education, or careers and job application help. We want to use data give users an accurate picture of their future, allowing them to see opportunities for progress and change. We hope to apply data and analytics to discover and fulfil unmet needs they’d like addressed, and match them with tools or organisations that can help. These are just some of what we’re looking at. What’s exciting is the space to create so many services that have yet to be thought of. I believe we have a unique opportunity to help people understand and use data to better their lives.
So why should we use Ethi and EthiX? What's the vision for the core user experience?
We want to let users take control of their data, and give them the freedom to make use of it. This is what our platform does. It has two distinct modules that work together to help you understand and use your data in a way that’s relevant and useful to you: The Ethi app, a dashboard to view personal data in context and make it easier to understand and manage EthiX, a predictive user assistant that makes sense of your data to provide an adaptive web browsing experience Imagine if you had an assistant that could intelligently remind you about things, and plan your day out for you in the way that works best for you, in terms of productivity, mood, learning and life satisfaction. Now imagine this was available through your browser, all based on your data and personal context.
We have taken a web first approach, building a service that is deeply integrated into users’ lives. This is a new approach that hasn’t been tried yet. The browser is everybody’s interface to the entire internet, to the whole of human civilisation's network of knowledge, why shouldn’t an AI live in it, to help you see more connections, be more creative, and live a more productive life?
There are a few key interactions we’re looking at. The core goal is to help people answer the questions “What do I want to do?” and “What do I want to know?“. What's the thinking behind the products Ethi has chosen to build? We’re focusing on data ownership, so we want to help people keep their data within their control, help people learn from their own data, and help people use their data.
Right now, data is collected and stored without any context or explanation. To help people understand their data, we have to figure out a way to connect the dots and teach people about themselves.
We believe that people can become self-aware through their data. The more we understand our data, the better our decisions will be. We have to find a way for people to see and understand their data, so they can use their data to make new and better decisions about their lives. We’re looking at the new types of decisions that people can make with this data. New decisions about health, relationships, communities, or the world at large. We can build and deploy products that directly help people understand their data, then use it to make better decisions. We can help people decide what to say to the people around them, what to search for on the web, or what to buy.
The possibilities are endless. We’re not only building a set of software products, we’re building a new way of thinking about data. We want people to look at their data, ask interesting questions, and use it to create meaningful changes in their lives. What is Ethi's biggest obstacle?
For people to believe they’re able to take control of their data, they have to believe it’s possible to understand it in the first place. People are already using a lot of tools to organise and manage their data. The problem is that these tools are either too high level, or too complex. We need a way for people to understand their own data. If users can understand their data and how it’s organised, then they can use it to make changes. That’s the crux of our approach. As the amount of personal data in the world grows at a rapid pace, the ability to capture and use that data to drive positive change and to create new opportunities will become an increasingly valuable economic and political activity. Those who have the power to own and use their own personal data will be better able to protect their interests, gain greater control of their lives, and build a better world for everyone.
How will people react once they realise the value of their data?
We want to put the power of personal data in people’s hands, and let them see the data in ways that are relevant to them, they will see the potential of their data to affect positive change in their lives. If we can tell people who they are, and how that shapes the people around them, they’ll be more likely to let go of old, narrow ideas about who they are and who they want to become. If we can tell people about opportunities for advancement, they’ll be more likely to embrace change and new opportunities. The better we can show people what’s possible with their data, the more we can empower them to put data to use.
What are the outcomes that will make or break Ethi?
Data creators trust the service enough to be willing to use it and share their personal data with it.
People trust the service enough to be willing to use it and share their personal data with it.
Personal data use unlocks positive value for individuals in their work, home, and social life.
Personal data uses create value for data creators in their work, home, and social life.
Our value creation is extremely high and our burn rate is extremely low.
Is there anyone providing a similar service to Ethi?
While there are a handful of startups with intriguing products, they tend to be very high level and general. None are focused on building a product to compete head to head with what Google, Facebook, and other consumer web giants are doing. These services are in the business of managing data, not helping people understand it or control it, or use it! This is a big distinction and the main reason why they haven’t been successful at earning user adoption, trust and loyalty.
We have built great technology, but our focus is entirely on the user experience. We want users to get real, tangible benefits from their data. That means not only bringing your data under your control, but enabling you to turn it into action. We want to give you an active toolkit, not just a dump truck for your data. We believe it’s possible to build services that compete on user trust and ownership, while enabling people to use data to their advantage.
How is Ethi's business model different from business models of other companies in tech? No other consumer internet company approaches the problem from a user’s perspective. They are designed to sell you products, not to help you improve your life. While it’s true that Google does make some efforts to help users improve their quality of life, these efforts have come as an afterthought to data collection. In other words, their products were built in order to harvest user data. For this reason, they will never be able to compete with other companies that make user data a first class citizen.
Our business model is about helping people understand their own data, and taking data ownership out of the hands of large organisations and put it in the hands of individuals.
We also want to encourage the development of new social media platforms and other services that help people create meaningful interactions, and support the creation of products and services that are built on and around people’s own data. The key part to this business model is to create value for people: We create value by helping people gain better insight into their own lives, and by giving them the tools to get help.
What's at stake?
We’re in a fight for the future of the web, a fight to ensure it remains a decentralised, user-centric space, where anyone can have their voice heard, and where users can have direct power. We believe in the web, and we believe we can win.
We want to move the tech industry from being “product-centric” to being “user-centric”. The next decade will be the decade of human centred technology, if Ethi has anything to do with it!
How do you know you can compete with Google, Facebook and other personal data giants? We’re very confident in our ability to compete because of our understanding of our users and the data they create. We understand our users, because we are users. We’re personal data creators, and we’re developing a system for our peers, so we understand the requirements and the concerns of other personal data creators. We believe that it’s possible to build systems that focus on user needs, rather than on commercial opportunities. We also think that people want a direct, transparent relationship with the services they use, rather than one that’s indirect, opaque, or exploitative.
Why should personal data ownership be controlled by the individual rather than by large corporations or governments? The right to use your own data has been taken away from you. It is being managed, controlled, and even exploited by centralized powers. You have no say in how that data is used, and you have little opportunity to make the most of it. The power and value of your personal data should not be abstract and speculative. It should be immediate, real, and concrete. You should be able to act on your own data and turn it into something meaningful. Right now, that’s impossible because all the major services and companies around you are putting their own interests first. They’re not designed to benefit the people who create the data they collect, sell, and use. You have the right to protect your personal data, and the responsibility to direct it towards meaningful ends.
What sort of changes to personal data laws and/or privacy policies do you expect will be made over the next few years?
On a global scale, we’re seeing a backlash against the use of personal data to profile and discriminate. In Europe, privacy laws are tightening and companies are being held to account for the abuses of their users. We think we will see similar legal challenges in the US in the years to come. Additionally, the role of large technology companies is being seriously re-examined. It's now realised that all these "free" services were never really free at all, they came at the cost of our privacy, our autonomy, and our attention.
Why should anyone pay for Ethi, or become a Founding User? Our strategy is to compete on the basis of trust and respect, not through aggressive retention tactics. We aim to deliver value, and help our users understand their data and what they can do with it. To this end, we have several key strategic initiatives: 1. Help users use their data to achieve their goals We will empower people to take action with their data, whether that’s on their work, home, or social lives. In every case, we will make sure the user is taking control of their data, and not handing it over to be processed. 2. Build user trust User data should be treated with the same level of trust and respect as a doctor treats a patient, or a lawyer treats a client. That is what we want to embody. We will do everything we can to keep user data secure and private, and to ensure the privacy of the user is respected. 3. Keep all user data inside the platform We will encrypt all user data, and work towards a Zero Trust architecture. We will not look at, or process, any user data outside of the application. All user data will remain on the platform where the user can control it. 4. Deliver value The value users get from the platform will come from understanding and taking action with their data. We will ensure that we are truly delivering value in each of these areas. In addition to these four pillars, we will be continue to evolve and build out amazing features, that make the most of user's data. We want using Ethi products to feel like you have superpowers.
Where do we see Ethi in 5 years?
We see individuals using Ethi to own the go-to source for their user-centric personal data. Ethi will provide users a single platform for all kinds of data, in a variety of formats. The goal is to give users the freedom to control their data and to use it for themselves. If people feel like they have control over their data, it will empower them to make better decisions about themselves and the world around them.
They will be able to support causes that are important to them, take action on political, social, and environmental issues that they care about, and pursue careers and lives that align with their personal interests. People will finally be able to use their data in a meaningful way. What is Ethi's ultimate goal? Our ultimate goal is to achieve user-centric personal data management and processing, allowing the user to bring their data with them and use it wherever they are in the physical and digital world, while always staying in control. By achieving this, we will unlock the full power of personal data for the individual, and enable people to be the authors of their own stories.
How can you join us on this journey?
Support us. Our dream is to put people in control of their personal data. Join us and help us build the first personal data platform. We have a handful of projects that are either in the early stages of design or just being prototyped. If you’re interested in helping out, here are some ways you can get involved:
Join us as a Founding User! We want to work in the open, but we need resources to do that. We also need money to run servers and to pay our bills. Please help out with a donation.
Work with us! If you’re interested in making a tangible difference, and working on a project you can be proud of, get in touch with us.
Tell people about the fight. Spread the word about the struggle. Write about us on your blog or social media (shares always appreciated), or send a link to someone you think might be interested.
We’re worried about the world and how the balance of power has away from the individual to the algorithm. We’re proud to be involved in a project that we think can help shift things back towards a more balanced state. We hope you'll be proud too!
We’re dedicated to helping people get involved, and contributing. If you’re involved with a cool project that’s open-source, open data, open science, or otherwise in the spirit of openness and empowerment, please get in touch. We want to help. We also have a semi-regular newsletter (we haven’t been sending them much lately, sorry!). If you’d like to be on it, please get in touch, we love to hear from you (or sign up on the homepage).