Creating new markets with the Hub-of-all-things

With the advent of the internet of things (IoT), today’s world is one of connected things and connected people.


While such a connected world leads to better organisation and co-ordination of our lives, it also means that loads of disparate companies are gaining access to personal data about the way we live. This is often not intentional but it does create a side effect – what economists call an externality – of the digital economy. Such an externality can be positive in that companies are better able to understand their customers. It can also be negative in that individuals become increasingly concerned about the security and confidentiality of their own data.

Contending that companies do not have a mandate to hold personal data securely, individuals seek greater safeguards and regulation but often governments are reluctant to legislate on personal data security for fear of being seen as anti-markets and anti-innovation. This gives rise to a tension between personal data privacy concerns and our abilities to tap into innovative services and products in an era of the internet of things. Or so many would like us to think. I believe, however, that this tension is false: there is a better way.

How about every person having a secure platform/server enabling us to use the data for ourselves, giving us the computational ability to organise our inventory, lifestyles, calendar – our digital assets – to help us make better decisions in our lives? How about enabling every person to retain control of how they share their data with whomever they choose, and synchronise across all IoT firms and internet services in a secure and privacy-preserving manner? Would this not create a win-win situation?

These and other questions on the market for personal data and its externalities have been addressed by the Hub-of-all-Things (HAT multi-disciplinary research project led by WMG at the University of Warwick. Over the past two and a half years, researchers from six universities funded by the Research Councils UK (RCUK) Digital Economy Programme have built the HAT, a multi-sided platform for personal data created to enable individuals to collect their own data through IoT-enabled objects, and to control, recombine and be creative with mixing up data and then sharing it in a privacy-preserving manner. This not only helps us make better and more informed decisions in our lives, but also allows companies to offer us more personalised and customised offerings.

The HAT Foundation will take forward the next phase of the technology, taking over from the HAT research project team in WMG to roll out the HAT globally in 2016 ( An entirely new social and business contract is forged between individuals and firms in the context of the IoT, one that potentially spurs even more innovation because individuals
could be private and secure and firms can offer more innovative services around a mix of all sorts of data.

By respecting privacy and the ownership of personal data in this era of the IoT through HATs, we can see new ways to create new markets and in doing so, help spur greater growth in the digital economy.

Professor Irene Ng is director of the International Institute for Product and Service Innovation at WMG, University of Warwick


Get our latest features in your inbox

Join our community of business leaders