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Special Guest Doc Searls


When customers are in full command of what companies do with their data—and data about them


The GDPR isn’t the tip of an iceberg. It’s Iceland: a new island of volcanoes, rising in the midst of Business As Usual. This island will soon become a continent on which companies will need to survive, adapt and thrive.

The magma in those volcanoes is the dislike people have for the disregard business has held toward personal privacy and independence ever since industry won the industrial revolution—and especially since the Internet made it easy for any company to do pretty much what it pleases with any personal data it (or the third parties it hires) can acquire, by whatever means. People have also resented companies’ legal shields, in the form of one-sided terms of service and privacy policies that people have almost no choice about agreeing to. These terms have also been pro forma in mass market industries for a century and a half.

The end of this story is not new ways for companies to do what they’ve always done, only with new approaches to compliance and consent. The end is a new beginning for business, in a world where customers are fully in charge of their lives in the marketplace—both online and off: a world that was implicit in both the peer-to-peer design of the Internet and the nature of public markets in the pre-industrial world.

In this new and naturally networked world, companies will agree to, and comply with, personal terms of service and privacy policies proffered by individual customers and consumers. In other words, agreement mechanisms will turn the other way around, with companies clicking “agree” to customer and consumer check-boxes before the dealing starts.

Doc Searls predicted this in The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge, published by Harvard Business Review Press in 2012. Shortly after that, he and his wife Joyce founded Customer Commons (, which will serve both as a home for customers' standardized terms and an international organization of customers. 

There are many cracks in the sea floor of business as usual, through which this new continent is beginning to emerge. One is the GDPR. Another is popular dislike of unaccountable centralization, both in trade (e.g. in globalization) and in corporate power (e.g. with Facebook and Google). Another is the rise in distributed and decentralized solutions to business problems and opportunities, such as blockchains, distributed ledgers, coins and tokens. Another is with self-sovereign approaches to personal identity, which in the long run will eliminate logins and passwords.

As a result of all these changes, and more to come, is a new world where customers are in charge of what companies do with personal data, and how loyalty emerges afresh from cooperation between parties of equal power, rather than through entrapment and coercion by business alone. (Which is how most “loyalty” programs work today).

Doc will kick off the Pacific Northwest BI & Analytics Summit with his talk, giving all of us much to discuss, debate and learn. He and Joyce will be joining us for the entire Summit, and are eager to learn from the rest of us as well.

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