HPE and Nokia Want to Let You Sell Your Own Data on the Blockchain

May 16, 2018, 2:53 PM UTC

With concerns over data privacy reaching a fever pitch in the U.S. and Europe, major companies are proposing a new solution: Let customers control—and sell—their own data as they wish.

At the Consensus conference in New York this week, companies including Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Nokia unveiled partnerships with a Swiss startup called Streamr, which is building a marketplace for data atop a blockchain. The plan is to allow consumers to put their data—collected by any number of Internet-connected devices—on the blockchain, and then potentially make money by selling it a wide range of organizations, from advertisers to governments, interested in buying it.

Streamr, which plans to “tokenize” the data in the form of a cryptocurrency called DATAcoin, or DATA, raised $30 million in an initial coin offering (ICO) last year.

HPE, for example, has created a prototype in which data from a car can be collected on its Edgeline server and stored on a blockchain, making it possible for drivers to sell that data—from windshield wiper activity (which could provide early weather warnings) to fuel levels (which could help gas companies predict demand).

“The data that’s stored in your car is extremely valuable and right now us drivers just give it away,” says Raphael Davison, HPE’s worldwide director for blockchain. “This kind of technology with blockchain allows you to have control over it, and therefore you control it, you can monetize it.”

City administrators might want to buy data collected by cars about traffic congestion or even pothole locations, while auto insurers could buy the data to evaluate individual drivers’ risk and assess premiums accordingly. HPE’s blockchain prototype is installed in an Audi Q2, but the technology could eventually be applied in any car.

“Car makers obviously want to use it, owners would love to sell it, smart cities would love to buy it, insurance companies would love it,” Davison said.

He calls this “blockchain 3.0”: If blockchain 2.0 was about using the technology to connect businesses with other businesses, the next phase will remove corporate middlemen and connect consumers directly with companies seeking to profit.

“The approach in blockchain is that the owner of the data is the person who generates that. Not the car company,” he says, adding that HPE is also exploring ways to allow patients to control and share their own medical records and health care data.

Nokia, meanwhile, has partnered with Streamr to put data collected on the Finnish telecom company’s mobile “base station” devices—essentially industrial-strength WiFi hotspots—on the blockchain. Nokia’s base stations are frequently used in rural low-signal areas, such as on farms where Internet-enabled sensors are often deployed to predict weather patterns and regulate irrigation and other processes.

“Farmers want to have a weather station—they might also want to sell that data,” says Martti Ylikoski, radio system evolution lead at Nokia.

Streamr also announced a partnership Wednesday with OSIsoft, whose data and analytics software is used to monitor industrial plants and other operations for Fortune 500 companies. In that case, OSIsoft’s clients may want to use Streamr’s DATA token to share and trade their data amongst each other, which could also help OSIsoft attract customers, the company said.

While it may still be a few years before the technology is adopted widely enough that car drivers and farmers can actually sell their data, Streamr’s CEO Henri Pihkala envisions that eventually, many devices—from automobiles to smartphones—will have a simple on and off switch for sharing and selling their data. The technology to do so already exists, Pikhala says; it’s just a matter of getting companies to implement it: “That’s why we partner with people to make these scenarios possible.”

Streamr’s DATAcoin currently trades at a price of about 12 cents, down from a high of 30 cents at the beginning of this year.