FEATURE13 November 2013

Shake on it


Meet Handshake, the mobile app that’s looking to create a market for people to sell their personal data directly to companies.


Our data is valuable – that’s what we’re frequently told. It’s worth something to companies, who can use it to understand more about us so they can market to us better; to find products we’re interested in and offer them to us at a price we’re likely to pay.

It should be worth something to us, as individuals, as well. But at the moment, it’s hard to put a figure on its monetary value. Consumers have sought damages from companies (see here, here and here) they accuse of taking their data without permission. However, in most cases, their complaints have been dismissed for failing to establish proof of personal injury or economic harm.

The problem, as Guy Fielding sees it, is that there is no open market that exists for people to work out how much their personal data is actually worth. “We need a marketplace, with buyers and sellers and bids and counter bids” in order to assign value to our own information, he says.

An adult conversation

Fielding is research director for Horizon2, a consultancy that advises organisations on how to best manage their customers via contact centres. Horizon2’s work in this area is what led Fielding and his MD Duncan White to develop the idea for Handshake: an app that would provide people with the means to connect with those companies that want access to their data, and to have – in White’s words – “an adult conversation” about it.

“If you keep asking customers for data, for information, at some point you have to give value back. You have to reciprocate”

It all started with the fad for post-interact customer surveys, explains Fielding. Essentially, organisations implementing these surveys were asking their customers to work for them for free, by having them rate the performance of their customer contact centres.

This was a thoroughly one-sided demand, says Fielding. “There’s no real reason for customer to rate their experience as there is nothing in it for them. Whether they have a good or bad experience, their response has virtually zero chance of influence the experience the next time they call, as they will just be routed through to the first available operator.”

Response rates reflected the lop-sided nature of the deal on offer, says White. One project Horizon2 worked on received completed surveys just 8% of the time.

“The idea for Handshake came from the realisation that if you keep asking customers for data, for information, at some point you have to give value back. You have to reciprocate,” says Fielding.

Deal or no deal?

The genesis of Handshake dates to 2010, however White says development of the app really took off a year ago, after the company – Handshake is a separate business entity from Horizon2 – raised £100,000 in investment under the UK government’s Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme.

Handshake is due to begin beta testing in January. 3,500 people are waiting in the wings to put the app through its paces. Once launched, users will be asked to build a profile within the app, while companies can sign-up to search for interesting prospects.

“We need a marketplace, with buyers and sellers and bids and counter bids”

Once they’ve identified people they are interested in dealing with, companies have to make a request – either to send marketing materials or offers, to ask questions or to source specific data – along with details of what they’re prepared to give the individual in return. Users can then either accept or reject the offer, or make a counter proposal.

To smooth the process, Handshake will also allow users to set up lists of preferred organisations and those they want to block automatically. The company is also exploring ways to make the information import process as effortless as possible. Facebook APIs, for instance, could automatically pull in data, to save users having to manually input the information.

Eventually brands will make their own requests of people, but Handshake plans to kick-off the beta by asking people some questions of its own, starting with purchase intent. Of the 3,500 registered beta testers, 40% are from the US, 30% from continental Europe and the rest are UK-based.

In keeping with the spirit of the app, Handshake offered its own quid pro quo to early adopters: the first 3,000 beta testers are to share 10% of the company’s equity between them. At this stage, Handshake expects an individuals share to be worth about £150. It could be worth more than that, given time.

The Economist’s upcoming World in 2014 supplement has a piece on the growth of the personal information economy – and if its prediction is right, next year could be a good one for Handshake and tools like it, which aim to give people more control over their data.

  • To sign up to the Handshake beta, click here.