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Factual’s Data Privacy Manifesto

Factual aims to democratize high-quality location data while protecting consumers’ privacy. In an information economy, data is the most valuable resource, but it is not widely available. Rather, it is increasingly siloed and hoarded within mighty walled gardens.

Data, as a resource, is far more valuable than oil ever was. Companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon have been incredibly adept at getting consumers to share personal data—and now they own the most data. For most global companies, the world’s most valuable resource is nearly impossible to access. If data doesn’t become more accessible, we may end up living in a world where most of us don’t work for these giants and thus have zero potential to contribute. If we are not careful, this situation could turn into a global calamity.

More than 10 years ago when I left Google to start Factual, few people understood the biggest data companies might one day not just dominate your online attention, but also dominate other verticals like auto, television, music, retail, payments, and yes, government. A decade later, this idea is more commonly understood. Yet most of that domination beyond “digital” into all other realms of your life has just begun. Today, few people understand the second-order effects of this future where a data oligopoly dominates innovation.

If nothing is done, I believe small businesses will be decimated. That’s why our company makes location data available to other businesses so that they can use it for new waves of innovation. I firmly believe solving the access problem to high-quality “factual” data is the single most significant opportunity to ensure a continued pace of innovation far out into the future.

We will only realize the benefits of location data if there is a foundation of trust. It goes without saying that data services need to be legally compliant, but we need to go beyond that and consider the end user’s interests. At Factual, we guide our data policies by:

  1. Supporting our mission to democratize access to data so that innovation can be widespread, not just in the hands of the current data oligopoly.
  2. Working to mitigate privacy risks for consumers, protecting individual consumers from negative impacts, to the best of our ability.
  3. Providing visibility and choice to consumers who decide that they don’t want to be targeted with advertising.
  4. Building upon our brand as the trusted steward of the world’s data.

Within this framework, there are many judgment calls where we may have to assess various categories of risk.

When assessing our commercial relationships, we consider a number of factors to identify categories of risk. We then ask ourselves a series of questions that help mitigate potential risks, which may include:

  • Is any personal data involved?
  • Will any such personal data be anonymized or pseudonymized before sharing?
  • Will personal data be aggregated?
  • Do affiliates have appropriate security technologies and policies in place to protect data from intentional hacking or accidental leakage?
  • Will usage patterns lead to a situation in which pseudonymous data can be re-associated with PII?
  • Has the recipient contractually agreed to comply with local laws and regulations?

It won’t always be easy to fulfill our mission and potential while safeguarding data, but we must.  The cost of not accomplishing this objective is too great. Many data firms we know of today will find exits and sell into some other walled garden, and many others will die or limp along.

It is not a foregone conclusion that a location data company will become large and independent, ensuring that a broad set of companies can innovate. If we can build one, the innovation that will ensue during the next decade will be staggering.

We’ll live in a world where nearly any kind of business can compete—and not just the data oligopoly. Compared to the alternative that we are currently facing, it’s the only option.