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Aussie startup aims to wrestle back its users’ personal data

Monday, 14 July 2014 | By Broede Carmody

An Australian startup is pushing back against businesses using people’s data without their consent by allowing its users to manage and understand their online identity.


Founder and chief executive of Meeco, Katryna Dow, told StartupSmart she hopes her platform will make it easier for people to organise their digital life and put themselves in control of their own data.


“It’s a way for people to own, aggregate and analyse their personal data for them to be able to draw insight from that and to decide who or how they want that information to be shared,” she says.


The idea for Meeco came to Dow while watching the film Minority Report just over a decade ago. In the film, there is a scene where the protagonist is being bombarded by targeted advertising.


“I remember walking out of the cinema thinking I’m not sure that’s a world I would like to be living in,” says Dow. “I then pushed it out of my mind for a number of years but kept returning to it.”


Three years ago, Dow decided to forge ahead with the idea – bootstrapping the project until January when she found an angel investor.


There is an increasing awareness around online security and the fact people’s online data is valuable. According to Dow, more than 80% of online activity is tracked and sold by third parties – often without users’ direct consent or knowledge.


“What most people don’t realise is that it is a multi-trillion dollar industry,” she says. “Most people don’t realise that their data or information is actually monetised every single day.”


Recently, social media giant Facebook came under fire for attempting to manipulate people’s emotions. The issue made headlines around the world and raised serious questions about the ethical conduct of technology companies. Dow says she would like to see more people discuss issues around how people’s data is used.


“Your data is the most valuable when it’s accurate, in context, up to date and if it’s matched to your intention,” she says. “Right now we give a lot of that intention away and it is monetised. We want brands and businesses to respectively connect with people, use the data with transparency and incentivise people for sharing their data.”


When asked what her advice would be to entrepreneurs just starting out, Dow says it is important to recognise it isn’t easy for startups to get off the ground.


“As a woman who is not an engineer who is doing a tech startup, if I was to say it was simple and I was welcomed with open arms that would be a lie,” she says.


However, Dow points out the tough startup environment in Australia has helped her grow not just as an entrepreneur but as a person.


“You have to be really good at rejection, at hearing feedback,” she says. “Feedback helped me refine the idea.”