We finally found a company doing something useful with all your Internet of Things data – securely

Hands up who likes free stuff? Picture: Getty Images

Let’s talk about the Internet of Things for a minute.

Broadly speaking, the ways IoT is changing the world are barely noticed by regular folk like you and me. Urban infrastructure maintenance, pollution levels, water quality, species monitoring, real-time health diagnoses, surveillance, agriculture… there are very few industries that will not in some way be improved by one or many types of 24/7 connections.

But IoT at consumer level – the smartwatches, home sensors, endless array of personal something-ometers – is mostly just tricks with numbers to impress you into buying something you probably don’t need.

All you really need to know at the end of your run is whether you’re knackered or not.

Unless you’re otherwise impaired, you don’t need a “water leak detector”, because you have actual eyes that can see a pool of water IRL.

And if you really need a drink bottle to tell you when you need to drink water, you don’t need the latest technology. You need a carer.


The problem is we’re still at the stage of being a bit too easily wowed by the tiny sensors that tell us how much butter is left in the fridge, what the dog did while we were at work, and waiting for a gap in the conversation or walking closer to the speaker to tell OK Google three times that no, it’s the album Iron Maiden you want to listen to, not the band, when really it would be much quicker just to hit a Play button.

Technology in 2018. Picture: Supplied

Actually, there is something significant happening. There are terabytes of data being recorded and stored about our lives and decisions, every hour, every day.

We can… look at it. Show it to visitors in our homes. Maybe turn something off and on with our voice, instead of our finger.

But all that data is actually useful, especially if you’re in the business of convincing people they need to buy something that they probably don’t. A business like marketing.

If you’re in Alphabet’s marketing department, you rub your hands at the thought of all those Chilean hotels and experience banners you can now plaster all over every website a Google user visits for the next two weeks, because they searched for flights to Santiago this morning.

At Facebook, you’re pinging out a special offer from Ray-Ban to the WhatsApp account of the kid that just Liked his friend’s sunnies on Instagram.

And in the real world, everyone else is grinding their teeth and thinking two things:

  • Get out of my face, because I’m perfectly capable of shopping, and
  • I hate how much you know about me.

But an Australian marketing firm says it doesn’t have to be this way, and it’s got the blockchain and a former prominent politician on its side to show why. Meet Ziva founders Issac Elnekave and Michael Loewy:

Ziva founders Issac Elnekave and Michael Loewy. Picture: Supplied

They launched Ziva in Australia towards the end of 2015 as a platform for companies to market their wares in line with all the data collected by your IoT devices.

And you’re probably already backing up over the thought of that. More so now than, say, before the Cambridge Analytica “scandal” hit headlines earlier this year.

That was the point when a lot of – but still not nearly enough – people finally woke up to the fact that it is important to read the fine print and that personal data can be used in ways that have far-reaching consequences.

Yes, it’s important to own your own data. But it’s also important to get loads of free stuff.

And if you want a band that not only tells you when you’ve walked 10,000 steps in a day, but may also blag you flight vouchers for doing it, you’re going to have to give a couple of companies access to your data to make it all happen.

“If you think about it today, every time you’re looking to shop online or to search online engage with a brand, any business knows exactly what it is that you’re doing, and that company sells your data,” Ziva co-founder Issac Elnekave said.

“And the company that sells your data sells it to marketing companies that make money on your data.

“But the only person that’s out of this loop is you.”

That’s where Ziva and the blockchain comes in.

A recent campaign asked fitness fans to share the data from their wearables with Kellogg’s, the cereal company. Throughout the four-week campaign, their activity levels were gamified, and they were given personal challenges from AFLWomen’s mentors.

Picture: Ziva’s Kellogg’s campaign

In return they got that all-important fitspiration from the challenges, plus the chance to win an overseas holiday based on the number of kilometres they completed.

Kellogg’s, presumably, got to lob the words “Special K” in their faces as often as practicable. And it also got some impressive returns on their investment.

96% of customers stuck with the campaign for the four weeks. More than 50% of direct messages to participants were actually opened. An all-important 86% said they were likely to purchase Special K.

And crucially, 99% weren’t annoyed, because they said they would participate again.

Even more crucially, what Kellogg’s didn’t get was the data, and the personal details attached to it.

The only people who got the data were Ziva – and they only got it when the participants said they could, because all of it went through Ziva’s blockchain-based privacy framework, which de-identified everyone.

Elnekave called it a “watershed” moment in the marketing industry.

We can run our business very well and deliver our product exceptionally well just knowing you are a number.

“Once you’ve connected your activity tracker to Ziva, we know your name, we know your email address, your age, your height, your geolocation – a complete pattern, a tremendous amount of really, really personal data,” he said.

“So we needed to find a way, how do we ensure this data remains private?”

Here’s how it works.

Ziva takes your data and separate it into two distinct databases. One which has your metrics, such as how far you walked or how fast you ran.

The other database has all of your personally identifiable data. That data is encrypted to comply so that the folks at Ziva do not know who you are. Ziva only has you as a number.

Elnekave says the only person who has the key to decrypt that data in the second database is you.

“So when a brand says ‘We want to talk to all the people out there that wake up at 5.30 in the morning and run for three kilometres every day – except for Sundays’, they can come to Ziva and we can tell them ‘Well, those are users #100 to #1000.’

“If the brand wants to engage with them, it will be able to contact you directly through Ziva and say ‘Hey we want to engage with you and we’re prepared to compensate you for your consent.

“And if you agree to the compensation, then Ziva will provide access to the database with your metrics, and you – the user – through blockchain, will provide a key to decrypt that data.

“So now you, the consumer, has consented to sharing your data with the brand that is looking to target you directly… and you as the consumer have the ability to come to the party in terms of the compensation.”

The happy consequence of using the blockchain is, the more comfortable people are with sharing their data, knowing it’s secure, the easier it is for a company to engage them with products and services that are actually engaging.

“We don’t actually need that data,” Elnekave says. “We can run our business very well and deliver our product exceptionally well just knowing you are a number.

“Blockchain provides an immutable ledger of who used your data, what for, what you got compensated for, and allows you to manage the transfer of a key through a smart contract.”

Ziva identifies itself as the platform when you sign up for the campaign. Users who participated in the Kellogg’s challenge, for example, were told the campaign was being run for Kellogg’s by Ziva.

Picture: Ziva’s Kellogg’s campaign

It’s at that stage you can trust that your data is being held completely anonymously, although Elnekave says the real beauty of the system is it’s actually “trustless”.

“You don’t need to trust anyone because it becomes a mathematical impossibility for your data to be leaked,” he says.

Ziva doesn’t have to be compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) recently brought in for European citizens which requires companies to specifically ask for permission every time they want to use an individual’s personal data.

Currently, Ziva only operates in Australia, but Elnekave says even if it does expand globally, the blockchain feature passes muster.

“This will become an inevitability in this space,” he says.

“Businesses in the future need to provide consumers with a way to safeguard their data and the protocol that we’ve built within Ziva says ‘Well, we’re not relying on regulatory statutes to do this’.

“We’re actually relying on technology which is backed by the blockchain to deliver a trustless solution.”

And the prominent parliamentarian? Former NSW opposition leader Kerry Chikarovksi:

Former NSW opposition leader Kerry Chikarovski. Picture: Supplied

With extensive experience in being bombarded with marketing emails, Chikarovski joined Ziva’s board about two years ago.

“Ziva approached me about what sounded like a new step forward in marketing,” she says. “Not being so technically minded myself, I was drawn to the innovative nature of the technology, as well as the passion of the team.

“As a former politician, I’m also particularly concerned with protecting privacy. The fact that Ziva’s platform provides such solid protection around personal data and places control of it back into the customer’s hands is a pivotal reason as to why I wanted to be involved.”