Putting control of personal data back into the hands of the consumer

Every day, businesses are collecting more and more data from people without their knowledge – from their phones to the information generated by their household appliances. In fact, data collection is developing so fast that academia and regulatory bodies can’t keep up, causing a loss of control by the individual over their personal data and how it is used.

To combat this trend, the University of Cambridge Psychometrics Centre, an online behavioural research team that runs both research and consultancy projects supported by Cambridge Enterprise, has developed a host of online tools that seek to empower digital citizens. These tools provide the beginnings of an infrastructure for a personalised internet, in which control of personal data rests with the individual and organisations are incentivised to innovate and provide benefits in exchange for data through more ethical means.

Established in 1989 at City University in London and active in Cambridge since 2005, the Centre became part of the Judge Business School in 2015, integrating with its multidisciplinary research agenda and Executive Education services. The centre runs both research and consultancy projects with industry. Software developed at the Psychometrics Centre includes Concerto, an open source online testing platform that allows users to create both simple surveys and complex computer-adaptive tests.

The Centre has a unique big data capability, with more than 6 million people having taken up to 30 tests each on a range of topics including personality, intelligence and business. It is the only organisation worldwide that has psychological data on this scale from validated assessments, which are widely used in scientific research. The Centre also has an unparalleled capability to collect new data, with some of its tools being accessed by half a million unique users a week. One of their most popular platforms through which the general public can learn about their online selves is Apply Magic Sauce, a personalisation engine that accurately predicts psychological traits from digital footprints of human behaviour. Academics with backgrounds in business, psychology, computer science, education and health collaborate to create software that translates traditional psychometrics to the online environment. This expertise spans the fields of business, education, health, finance, government, law and other areas where big data analytics and psychological assessment are becoming increasingly influential.

Through these research and consultancy projects, the Centre brings cutting-edge academic research to industry, and gains access to real datasets for high-impact publications. Cambridge Enterprise helps to foster these relationships with negotiation experience, administrative support and advice on matters of intellectual property licensing and commercialisation. CE Consultancy Manager Peri Cihan works closely with Vesselin Popov, Business Development Director of the Centre, to facilitate these projects.

One such project was with Grayling UK for Hilton Hotels to profile their audience and run a psychological marketing campaign. The campaign led to the development of branded apps Holiday Matchmaker and Hilton Explorer that provided travellers with personalised holiday recommendations and feedback on 11 ‘traveller types’ based on personality data. The project took third place for Most Innovative Marketing in the Travel Marketing Awards 2016, and the apps were used by 3.6 million people. This is just one example of a collaboration that began as a modest consultancy but has matured into several global campaigns that are transforming and personalising the hospitality sector.

Another example of this has been the Centre’s partnership with CitizenMe, a London-based start-up working to help individuals reclaim their personal data. The CitizenMe app integrates multiple data sources to surface engaging insights to users about their digital identities. Users can discover what their social media, location, browsing data and more means for them, and be financially and informationally rewarded for answering market research questions and anonymously sharing insights with commercial organisations. Cambridge Enterprise licensed the use of Apply Magic Sauce API to CitizenMe to provide its users with instant predictions of their psycho-demographic profile from their Facebook Likes. The project evolved into an Innovate UK-funded collaboration between CitizenMe, the Psychometrics Centre and Sheffield University, under the ‘Enhancing the Value of Digital Interactions’ call. This grant now funds a full-time postdoctoral position in the Judge Business School.

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