Good developers copy, great developers deal

So you have big data? That don’t impress me much. Big data is caused by the knee-jerk reaction to copy and store all data that is coming your way.

I’ll outline a typical data process to illustrate how it works most of the times, why it’s bad and how to deal with data like a great developer.

Last week I moved to another apartment. Where I live you have to register your change of address into the “Municipal Personal Records Database”. So I did. The municipality will send your new address to the IRS and every other governmental organization that need your address.

Then you have to guess everyone who maybe want to send you some stuff and tell them your new address. The funny thing is, you often don’t remember who these people are (i.e. your doctor and that uncle you didn’t spoke in a year).

This has a lot of disadvantages. To list a few:
– Storing my address in a lot of databases costs a lot of storage
– The data is always out of sync
– There are a lot of people responsible for safely storing my data
– I don’t know who knows where I live, which compromises my privacy
– It takes up to three weeks for all necessary people to know my new address

Ok, we get it. You shouldn’t move to new apartments too often.

No! That’s not what I meant. We should develop a new way of “storing” personal data. We should not store it, why don’t we borrow it instead.

Imagine your local bar. A good looking woman walks in the bar and asks for a drink. The owner of the bar asks for her ID. She gives her passport and the owner sees here data of birth. He calculates if she is allowed to get the drink and serves her the martini. In the meantime he also saw her name, her place of birth, the stamps in her passport etc. He doesn’t need that data, and the good looking woman can’t trust that the owner won’t tell anyone she was there.

The only thing the owner of the bar needed, was an answer to the question if the woman is allowed to drink. A simple yes or no would be enough.

You can do the same thing with my address. What if I store my own address. And when someone wants to send me something. They ask me what my current address is. Then all the disadvantages listed above would disappear.

Of course I’m very busy and don’t have time to answer the same question over and over again, so this process should be automated with a smart contract. I get to choose wether companies can see my address without manual permission. With all these organizations I sign an automated contract. For each new person or company I make a new contract.

This may sound like something that isn’t going to happen in the near future. But we have already built a prototype for Univé (a Dutch insurance company) to test out this way of working with data. And it’s possible.

It’s secure, it respects privacy, it’s instant and it’s scalable. Now it only works with an address. But what if you can do the same with renting out your car, make a contract with your neighbour to water the plants when on holiday or make a contract where the owner of the bar get’s a yes or no when he asks if you are allowed to drink?

Don’t copy and generate big data. Minimize information by using smart contracts and getting data from the source.


This article was written by Sythe Veenje with the help of Berco Beute and Henk Doornbos.