Internet of Behaviors (IoB) in good company – future behavior markets

January 13, 2021 § Leave a comment

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“Too much power and too much personal data.”
(Tim Berners-Lee in NYT interview, Jan 10 2021).

Having followed Tim Berners-Lee’s comments and activities I happened to read the NYT interview, January 10, 2021 which inspired me to look at the preliminary IoB concept by considering other developments with similar interests in the digital world. Clearly by separating behavior data and identity is a specific property of the IoB framework and it does not occur in other related concepts. However, the common aim and pressure is to protect people and their personal data while at the same time maintain and even boost digital service markets. My vision is that massive, global behavior markets can be opened but we must try to avoid the risks.

Berners-Lee vision is to build infrastructure, systems and services that offer people a secure and useful control of their personal data and transactions.  He has introduced the Personal Online Data Store (POD) – concept where the user controls her own data and can allow selected operators like companies to access and use the data when offering their specific services. Pilot projects have been ongoing.

MyData program has similar aims in trying to return control and data ownerships to us, the users and a chance to benefit from the use and value of our personal data. 

Portable data.  There is a major program Data Transfer Project (DTP), run by Google, Facebook, Apple, MS and Twitter, where the aim is to make personal data, not only behavioral data, portable. There are evident drivers for this collaboration among the data giants, considering the vast amount of personal and behavior data generated in the net. It is clear, however, that portable personal and identity data include a number of well-known risks and some new ones, for sure.

Gartner and IoB

In 2019 Gartner listed Internet of Behavior (IoB) as one of its top 20 strategic technology trends, and in 10/2020 it was already mentioned as Trend 1. Interestingly, originally they used IoB without the ‘s’ which I had included in the 2012a2012b  articles. Knowing the huge scope of behaviors and wearing the psychologist’s hat, it was a natural choice for me to include the s, which also hints to the idea that mental phenomena can and must be considered as behaviors in the IoB concept.

Gartner suggests compelling drivers for the emergence of IoB, a coherent means to: Capture behaviorsAnalyzeUnderstand, and Monetize. They do not specifically worry about the protection of personal data but whatever the model for providing security, it should support if not maintain the best of the digital markets.

In Gartner’s vision, pattern recognition, sensor systems and other monitoring technologies are used to recognize ongoing behaviors.  Identity has no special role there and it can be linked with the behavior for various purposes like measuring, follow-up, message targeting and intervention, for example. Naturally, id data is often necessary and extra care is taken to protect it. 

Looking at these technological developments, there looms a major competition between various concepts and architectures, each trying to gain access to service markets or maintain their power in using personal data for businesses and other benefits. A specific but extensive challenge will be how to make personal data safe and secure and to guarantee that it is used for the best of the citizens, customers and any other users. In summary, four new solution types can be seen to emerge:

  1. Preparing standards for personal data to make it portable between any operators and platforms and for any uses (DTP)
  2. Giving people data ownership and self-determination in managing their data (MyData)
  3. Securing personal data and offering secure control of personal traffic, data and transactions with specific permission access rights to service providers (Berners’Lee).
  4. Separating behavior data and identity data so that behaviors can be targeted and served without risking personal identity (IoB)

IoB is different from all other three since it includes the original, perhaps transformational idea that identity data and behavior data can be separated when needed and it can be very useful – without disturbing or hindering valuable digital services and markets. The other three approaches are not exclusive and even at the moment there are various versions or feature combinations of these on the market or being developed. At the moment it is difficult to see how this aspect of digital evolution will proceed.

The relevance of human-centric IoB 

When outlining the first concept version of the Internet of Behaviors 2012a2012b it was partly based on the conviction that people are not willing or able to invest any extra human effort to manage or own their personal or any other data.  Psychologically, data is secondary. Data protection tools for example, do have benefits like anonymity and security, but in general, they are used because it is a must and a social routine in the risky digital world. 

Managing masses of personal data is a complex task and only if it happens without any burden, almost invisibly, it can be a choice people are motivated to make.  Secondly, thinking about the IoB concept in 2010-11, the bad quality of the marketing/targeting tools was evident in how they use ML and other customer or lead management models to approach people with push offers. When these tools fail, it is typically in relevance and accurate timing. There are very human reasons to this failure, which I have explained in my IoB texts. Indeed, relevance is a most underestimated driver of human behavior and it is typically considered as the opposite to disturbance. Curious enough, it lacks a common behavior-theoretical name even though we all suffer from the irrelevance in the net.

The strongest sources of human interest can be found in relevance, timing, contents, contexts, relationships, experiences, style and sense of presence, to name only a few major factors. I have described this thinking in my book On the Edge of Human behaviors  where I use the ‘Golden Triangle’ framework: Content  orientation – Human centered and care – Psychological ground,  to span the conceptual view.

 Towards IoB architecture

We can construct a general model for representing any behavior, physical or mental,  

in digital form but we have to deal with two major challenges and requirements. Firstly, there is no general coding system for all human behaviors, and secondly, it is a major data-architectural endeavor to build a platform for managing any possible human behavior, physical or mental or even spiritual in nature. Some may think there is no way to code all behaviors, but it is possible to launch an evolutionary process, with no limits and we can expect major potential in future behavior markets.

Both of the requirements can be met by using a version of the IoB behavior data model which grows and improves as experiences are accumulated and the coding is tuned on the way. Services and tools can then be offered to people, based on their expressed or recognized (coded, often ongoing) behaviors, without knowing who they are and where. The architecture for IoB can include e.g. the following modules:

  1. Recording modules. A Behavior codec, where the recording and coding of a specific behavior is accomplished A) automatically e.g. by a pattern recognition or AI system , and/or B) by indicators or voluntary expressions of behaviors which are generated by the behaving individuals who also disclose their identities and C) the same as B but where only the ongoing/planned behavior is indicated without knowing who behaves or where the behavior occurs. This latter form was the original idea in my IoB texts. The obtained behavior data is then stored in IoB data base and without id data when needed. The coding of behaviors is contextual.
  2. IoB data modules. Behavior decoder provides behavior data (with or without id data) to service providers who can then select and use what is relevant for them. Their interest is to see what direct or potential service needs exist and when, based on the occurring behaviors represented in the IoB data base.
  3. IoB service platform. This is where ‘behaving individuals’, that is, citizens, customers, firms – the oB behavior data sources – and why not robots as well, can access any services they want from IoB and which are offered by service providers. Access to the IoB service platform takes place either anonymously or with id data included. Technically, there can be a number of different modules in the platform and they can use any media to inform the behaving individuals about the available services. However, the individuals decide whether to use the offered services.

User perspective. How to arrange for individuals to know what services are available for them and to access them effectively, when they do not want to reveal their identities? In Berners-Lee’s and MyData approaches this is accomplished by specific, secure data management solutions and there are, of course, numerous methods for anonymous communication. However, one possibility, among some others, which I have considered with IoB is to use a message board analogy, where service providers have write-access to personal boards to which only users have read access. This is only one of the many alternatives, and includes suitable options by which users can express their general or specific data to ease targeting.

Market perspective. One might wonder what use it is to know a behavior occurring right now, for example. However, the potential behavior pool can be globally huge so that relevant and timely offers can reach a significant audience –ongoing behavior is always a symbol of relevant needs. Further, through an IoB hub, certain behavior can be served by several providers each of which are not interested in the person but in the need based on the specific behavior. To quote B-L in NYT: “This is about making markets’. I’d could call it future behavior markets. The market potential of IoB is huge even when id data is no used.

Identity protection is available in IoB when needed. The structure and details of this preliminary architecture are open and various alternatives and versions can be imagined and designed. I will return to these later.

In Summary: IoB is one candidate concept for a service framework where customers and citizens can be served, based on their known behavior and do it safely by protecting their identities when needed. This is a call to regulators as well to consider means for identity-safe digital services by separating identity and behavior. Of course, not all behaviors can be served without knowing the identity of the person like in many health care contexts and in specific work environments, for example. But even there it is not always necessary. There is huge market potential in services that do not need identity data, but which serve behaviors accurately, time it right and are relevant to the expressed or recorded behavior.

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