Crowdsourcing private data

There have been numerous startups and trends that use crowdsourcing to generate their desired results. Most of them rely on people to publicly share the (public) information, whether they are tweets, status updates, checkins or shared links and then aggregate this information to generate interesting results. This model works great for public content, but completely breaks for anything that is private and personal. There have been a very small number of products that exploit this facet of crowdsourcing properly.

Basically, the idea is simple: Get private data from users and present it to others in an aggregate, anonymous way so that it benefits them (users).

The company that has done this quite well recently is Mint.com. They hold tremendous amount of private, transactional data from their users which is not directly shared with anyone. Then, they mine this data to generate interesting stats that give users a new insight on their usage. Utility companies have started to use this to show comparisons to their users, like I recently got a letter from our city that we are using more power than our neighbors.



We use a similar model in my current startup TheIceBreak, where we provide insights that help users improve their personal relationships.

With any service of this kind, it is absolutely important to maintain the trust of users. Failing to maintain the privacy or trying to move beyond the comfort zone of what people consider private will work against the utility of the service.

The results from such a service can be quite fascinating, giving users an insight which they might never have had before. I am curious what other services will emerge in the future that follow a similar model.

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