What happened to the startup that wants you to make money with your personal data

What happened to the startup that wants you to make money with your personal data

Weople promises subscribers to monetize the personal data requested from other companies thanks to the portability provided by the GDPR. But the project turned out to be more complicated than expected

Safe in a Milwaukee museum (photo by Raymond Boyd / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images) half the sea. In the case of a small Milanese startup, Hoda srl, the GDPR. Or rather, its interpretation. Two years ago, the company launched a service to monetize personal data, Weople, based on the principle of information portability, which the European Privacy Regulation recognizes in Article 20. Basically Weople asks its users for a mandate to reclaim the data that other companies have collected about them (for example, a platform or a supermarket), and then store them in a digital wallet. At that point, the members can use the treasury as they see fit, monetizing it.

Like a bank, parallel to which the founder, Silvio Siliprandi, former CEO of the Gfk Eurisko study center often resorts, Weople uses the deposited data on its accounts to develop data-driven services, remunerating the "account holders". For Siliprandi, president and CEO of Hoda, this balances the balance of power between consumers and large companies, which enrich themselves through the data of those same consumers.

What the Guarantors say

Applying this formula, however, turned out to be more complicated for Weople than expected. So much so that it took about two years to align the planets of the authorities called into question by the activity of the srl. Let's start with the Competition and Market Guarantor (Agcm). The green light came last October. "At present, there are insufficient factual and legal elements to justify further investigations", reads the communication published by Weople, in response to appeals from companies that did not want to collaborate with the startup. A few months earlier, however, the Authority for the protection of personal data withdrew the request for an opinion on the subject by the European Council of Guarantors (EDPB).

The involvement dates back to 2019 (and at the previous boarding school, at the helm Antonello Soro), when appeals about Weople's activity arrive on the desks in Piazza Venezia by some companies that do not know how to deal with the srl: do they have to deliver the data as you ask or not? Then the case is judged to be relevant at a European level, precisely because it involves one of the fundamental principles of the GDPR. But the practice doesn't go on. The new board of the Guarantor, led by Pasquale Stanzione, takes the decision to itself and, according to Wired, the investigation is at an advanced stage.

Double assist

Siliprandi is optimistic . On the one hand, it refers to an opinion of the European Privacy Guarantor (Edps), dated June 2020. It is stated that some personal data management systems "could be seen as engines for data portability", provided they are simple to use, transparent and focused on strengthening individual rights. Just as “they deserve consideration, further research and real support, as they contribute to a sustainable and ethical use of data”, some types of intermediaries. Specifically, those who want to give members control of their information back, in spite of data brokers who, on the contrary, trawl information in order to profile users more and more in detail.

On the other hand Weople makes a strong mention in the fact-finding survey on big data, conducted in Italy by the guarantors for privacy, competition and communications. We read that such initiatives could strengthen the bargaining power of citizens, because "they are able to partially overcome the limitations described by the current discipline of the right to data portability, in terms of contributing to the construction of awareness on the part of users about the economic value of their personal data, thanks to obtaining a remuneration for the use of such data by third parties ".

The wall of companies

On the other hand, the Gdpr is based not only on the idea of ​​protecting personal data, but also of guaranteeing its free circulation, both in favor of those directly involved, and competition between companies. Weople want to enter this space, which today claims to have 50,000 members but, thanks to the investigation by the Guarantor, is not working at full capacity. Not all the doors that it knocks on, on behalf of its users, open. Decathlon, for example, has let Wired know to defer to the position of the Guarantor, which, however, is still in the training phase. Alleanza 3.0, the largest cooperative in Italy, announces that it has circulated the offer of Weople among its 2.3 million members, to which 300 have joined, and that relations have been interrupted.

Siliprandi, on the other hand, is keen to point out that the company is alive and well, but that in terms of data portability, its hands are tied by a state of uncertainty. This is why so far it has not paid users who have stored data in the app's safes, as promised. On the other hand, this year, the CEO explains, the company has launched the first contracts for marketing and communication services, based on processing in an aggregate and anonymous form. In addition to Weople, the startup has developed Lifekosmos, a market research panel, and Dotconn, a platform that connects app data to other databases and generates user characterizations and segments. Customers include the dealerships Publitalia and Rai Pubblicità, the national energy giant Eni, the international advertising agencies Havas Media and Publicis. In 2021 the former number one of Gfk Eurisko aims to reach the breakeven.

Turnover and competition

The last balance sheet filed, dated 2019, marks a loss of year of 1.6 million euros, against a value of production of 871 thousand euros. Overall, the registered liabilities of Hoda, controlled by Siliprandi with the majority of the paid-up capital and the shares pledged by Cooptech scarl, a consortium company of the cooperative galaxy, exceeds 4 million. The explanatory note explains that the appeals to the Guarantor have led to "a decrease in the flow of data" and, consequently, to the need to rethink the mix between the various businesses of the company. Which explains the wait for the verdict of the Privacy Guarantor.

Large companies watch Weople's business with caution. "For us, the issue is still open and has been brought to the attention of the competent authorities both at national and European level", explain from Federdistribuzione, the association of distribution chains that in 2019 became the spokesperson for the requests of its members against Weople. And they add: "The rules for managing data portability are not yet clear, which, if applied in a distorted way with respect to the objective of the law, can have repercussions on respect for privacy and anticompetitive effects. Indeed, it is necessary to consider the assets that these data represent for companies, to be treated as an integral and fundamental part of corporate assets ".

In truth, on the antitrust front, the verdict of the Agcm states the opposite. And also the joint document with the Privacy Guarantor and the Communications Authority suggests an opening to operators like Hoda. The fear of many large companies is that the Weople case will create a precedent, which will then have dozens of intermediaries, even more structured, queuing outside their door, ready to request data portability for their clients. However, it is a far from unexpected ending, quite the contrary. The GDPR wants to go precisely in that direction, as Carlo Alberto Carnevale Maffé, professor at Bocconi University in Milan, explained to Wired three years ago: the regulation "creates a transparent and efficient data market. The data becomes negotiable ”and from“ illiquid liquid, finalized and exchangeable ”. Dura lex, sed lex.

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