I Am My Own System Of Record

PEOPLE PASSSION 360 by John PhilpinAn email signature I have used from time to time for nearly 7 years reads “John Philpin – I Am My Own System Of Record”.

Seven years ago people would ask me what I meant. Today? Not so much. It stems from a belief that the idea that an organization – any organization – thinking that its ‘system of record’ is anything but a tiny lens onto who I am … is deeply flawed.

A System Of Record – as defined by Wikipedia

A system of record (SOR) or Source System of Record (SSoR) is Data Management term for an information storage system (commonly implemented on a computer system) that is the authoritative data source for a given data element or piece of information. The need to identify systems of record can become acute in organizations where management information systems have been built by taking output data from multiple source systems, re-processing this data, and then re-presenting the result for a new business use.

Maybe ‘flawed’ is the wrong word. Maybe ‘arrogant’ is the right one, because they forgot to include qualifiers like ’in their organization’ and ‘with my permission’. Oh wait, that’s because they don’t need ‘my permission’ and organizations are so self-centered that ‘in their organization’ is redundant.

And you know I am right.

Think about which enterprises you know that holds information about you, and how they treat that information. Let me share a far from complete list that can be dropped into many categories

  • Banks, Insurance Companies, Mortgage Companies, Credit Card Companies …
  • Amazon, Netflix …
  • Facebook, Google, Twitter …
  • LinkedIN (and so Microsoft), where you are likely reading this very article
  • Cable Companies, Telco Companies …
  • Doctors, Dentists, Hospitals …
  • Supermarket Loyalty Cards, Gas Loyalty Cards, Frequent Flyer Cards …
  • Travel Booking Companies, Hotels …
  • The Online Florist, the Library …

… and that’s just who you know about. What I call, ‘first party’ data holders.

When you add in third party brokers like Experian, Free Credit Report, FICO, Equifax, Transunion, it starts to get worrying. All of it is at the root of the inspiration that prompted this ‘box poem’ from the poet Jim Woessner.

By the numbers there’s my driver’s license,

car registration, license plate, zip code,

various accounts, street address, birthdate

home, work, and cell phones, passport, credit cards

debit cards, PINs, social security

frequent fliers, internet passwords, stocks

checking, HMO, IRA, museums

library card, land and enneagram.

I know it’s a lot to remember, but

thank god I finally know who I am

–Jim Woessner, Box Poems

Spot on.

And, when you merge first party and third party data together it starts to get really creepy. Consider for example that moment when you are on a travel booking site and out of the blue you are asked whether you had thought about remortgaging your home ? Funny that – you had. In fact just yesterday you had been searching the web for the best deals – and clicking through and making notes and … wow how did they know?

Well that could be one reason, along with the trackers that are routinely built into the web links we all click on.

It doesn’t stop there. These trackers are everywhere. For example, why not pop over to where you will find at least 34 different entities waiting to greet you, track where you have come from, what you are doing on the site and where you are going.

forbes-blockersAnd, this just in – if you want to actually DO something about it, well here’s an interesting case study from Doc Searls – more of him later.

And it isn’t just the web. If you know a phone number, visit a ‘reverse look up’ site for phone numbers and you will be invited to get a report that will reveal the person’s name, their background, any criminal history, other phones numbers, associated emails, personal and business addresses, birth date and associated records, marriage/divorce records, legal judgments, relatives, court records, photos, social profiles and oh so much more.

Typical price? $4.95.

That said … the point of this article is not to rail on ‘tracking’, bad IT and marketing decisions or misguided corporations. The point is to talk about something more fundamental, data privacy and who actually owns that data?

I think we have all accepted that when we sign up for a social network site that our ‘content’ is essentially signed over to that site. Including the rights to its use. But what about when you signed up for that loyalty card. Did you think your data was going to be used, not just by the super-market, but essentially traded to a third party? And we know that happens, because if it didn’t class action suits like this wouldn’t happen.

And finally, you know when you have forgotten your password and the site says you need to answer a question about yourself. It used to be ‘mothers maiden name’, or ‘father’s middle name’, which of course these days is too easy to hack. So instead they now ask a range of questions like; First car you owned? Name of your first girl/boy friend. Name of your favorite pet … You know – things that only you know about you. Do you think that the data miners are going to not include that in their profile on you. Oh wait – he owns a dog? His first car was 78 BMW – and he just signed a lease for a 2016 BMW. Now THAT is loyalty. (At least this is how it will be interpreted.)[1]

When did we agree that none of our data is ours?

Most surveys conclude that ‘we’ have just ‘given up’ and ‘accept it’. At least that is what corporations want you to believe. But it isn’t too late, which is why two years ago, I became involved with Project VRM, an initiative that will be ten years old this coming September, started and lead by Doc Searls (Cluetrain Manifesto and The Intention Economy). It is a great group and I am proud to be part of it. It’s amazing to think how long this army of people has been working at the challenge.

And it is getting real. is a company based in the UK. Sponsor of the Medium publication ‘The Internet of Me’. Great read by the way – edited by Simon Carroll observe that by not only ‘.. regaining control over (our) personal data gathers the only complete picture of our lives in one place and brings immediate value’, but that by ‘exchanging slices of this rich data for direct benefits has unlimited commercial, as well as personal, potential.’

Sounds good, right ?

It is. They have apps available on both the iOS and Android mobile stores and on both the Mac and PC. Early days yet. The apps allow you to integrate your information stored in up to 20 separate social networks and then let you do some pretty cool stuff. But that isn’t the point and that ‘lack of point’ is not lost on some corporations. has just taken a ‘series A’ investment. It is a resounding commitment to a slightly different future than the one that most people have come to assume is inevitable. And why am I so upbeat? Companies are taking investments all the time. Why is this one different?

Turns out that this investment isn’t your usual VC. The source of the money is Swiss Re – a global insurance company that have recognized that data – my data, your data, everyone’s data, will have far more value if we own it – not them.

I can’t tell you where all this is going. Except it is going somewhere good. And the fact that a company as vast and data centric as Swiss Re is sitting up, listening and investing in a company that at its core is about ‘we the people’, is heart warming.

“People want to be in control of their data, and many have strong views over what they are willing to share and what they want to keep private.  We’re excited about because it will enable people to go one step further, and provide full transparency over how they can use their data to access services and benefits.”

–Daniel Ryan, Head of Digital Analytics Catalysts at Swiss Re

But there’s more. Check out this article by Stephen Deadman. Sorry who? Stephen Deadman, Facebook’s Global Deputy Chief Privacy Officer. Stephen writes;

…”Europe’s new privacy rules give businesses a chance to innovate – and Facebook is starting a new coalition on personal data.”

and, guess who is working with Facebook on this initiative, Stephen again ….

… “Every piece of research into attitudes towards personal data tells the same story. Consumers want more control over their data. They want to get more value from their data and entrepreneurs are now rushing to give them both. Just look at, which is creating a user-controlled marketplace around personal data.”

You just can’t make this stuff up.

Massive kudos to – one of over 200 companies – and counting (according to Doc’s developer catalogue including Ghostery, Meeco, Adblock, Privacy Badger, Tor and so many more.

What do you think? Interesting? I think so, which is why I have joined 400,000 people across 140 countries and installed the apps. Now I am thinking about how I can take even more control over my data.

[1] The fix to that is easy, provided you think about it. I do what Dave Winer does. I have an online persona with a couple of pets, cars I have never owned, people I don’t know and all of it is constantly and consistently used by me across all profile requests.


John Philpin
John Philpin
JOHN'S career spans 30 years, 2 continents, and organizations as diverse as Oracle, Citibank and GE. A Mathematics graduate, John moved to California in 1990. He helps technology companies create, develop and deliver their story for fund raising, market development and influencer programs. He also works with businesses to ensure they understand, and are ready, for the ever accelerating changes that technology is bringing to their industry. John is a co-founder of Expert Alumni and gleXnet and long before futurists and industry watchers were writing about the impending challenges that industries were going to be facing, they predicted a perfect storm of issues like skills gap, declining work forces, the gig economy, people trained to do work no longer needed, demographic shifts, economic and social change, market upheaval and rapidly changing ways of doing work. From the beginning they have promoted the idea that massive change was coming to how organizations should think about their workforce, with a singular focus on simplifying the interface between people and their work. Understanding the challenges ahead of the curve, the solution was built to arrive at a better understanding of the greatest restraint to business operations - competence, not capital. gleXnet provides unparalleled insights into an organizations people and operations by flipping the problem from the perspective of people, not the business.

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  1. Very good article. Always great to see people coherently sharing this message. On a side note, I recently took interest in Facebook’s interest in personal data, which you cite in your article, and while I think it may a positive sign I am also concerned about the way they went about their recently commissioned research on the subject. It is great that they are recognizing firms like, but at the same time, if you look at the list of those involved, it excluded significant segments of the population, including entire geographies. Here’s my take on the exercise:

    • Josh – thank you – and same comment as I said on your post >>>>

      “whether their interest is genuine or simply an attempt to appear to be on the right side of this growing sentiment.”

      … time will tell – we should not just assume that their agenda is ours – BUT – at least they now have an agenda !

      I would also agree that the Schrems lawsuit was probably a wake up call – US companies do tend to assume that the world is ‘just like them’ – and if not – then by god we will make it so)

      Counter intuitively the EU does seem to me to be more for the rights of the citizen than the corporation – which is why I think the corporate thinking over there is a little more advanced than here in the US.