Today Gener8 - a company that lets people take back control and earn from their online data - is launching a mobile app that allows people to see what data a company holds on them, then gives them the choice to earn from it themselves. It also raised £5.1 million in funding.
Gener8 has developed a web browser that lets people choose to keep their data private or earn from it themselves while browsing online.
By selecting 'Privacy Mode' the user can stop companies from tracking them, or the 'Rewards Mode' means that a person can share their data with Gener8 to monetise it for them.
People then receive points in return for sharing their data with Gener8. These points can be redeemed for products, vouchers or donations to charity in Gener8's marketplace.
The average UK user earns between £5 - £25 in rewards per month, with thousands of pounds donated to charities.
I spoke to Gener8's founder, Sam Jones, to learn more about the company's unique origin and funding story.
The challenges of bringing a mission-led idea to life
According to Jones:
"The majority of companies and a majority of things to do online are being tracked covertly, your data is aggregated, but you have no awareness of it, no ability to stop it, and no ability to share it."
Jones was the former global brand manager at Red Bull, a role which gave him first-hand knowledge of the lack of consumer data ownership by those that generate it. The idea for Gener8 was born but proved challenging. He shared:
"I'm a solo founder. I can't code. I had an idea on a piece of paper. And that's where I started. I believer in saying, fuck the rules; you've got to push your own direction."
The company was progressing with over a million in funding but a promised round imploded during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving the company's future insecure.
Jones was invited to pitch on a UK show called Dragon's Den where entrepreneurs pitch a "den of dragons" for funding.
He asked the Dragons to invest £60,000 in exchange for 10 percent equity in the business. The Dragons declared his presentation to be the best pitch they had ever seen on the show.
Dragons' Den stars Peter Jones and Touker Suleyman invested in the company, with Suleyman offering London office space as a sweetener.
While the BCC broadcast less than 10 minutes of the two-hour pitch, the company gained traction.
Over 40 different press outlets picked up the story. Besides the 4 million people who tuned into the program live, the pitch went viral on social media, earning over 30 million views on Facebook and over 10 million on LinkedIn.
"As a result, we had close to 10% of the UK population visit our website and over 600,000 new registered users. This resulted in another round of funding of £2 million within about three days."
Gener8's team of four joined Suleyman in his office for a year. Nearly two years later, 25 team members work from a whole floor of his building.
The data economy is growing
The company joins a cornucopia of startups that capitalise on the idea that your online digital footprint generates sellable data that can be blocked from the marketplace or sold to third parties.
It's not a new idea. IOTA, Streamr, and Dawex are developing marketplaces for data generated from the Internet of Things. Companies like digi.me, datacoup and Dataswift focus on software to trade and monetise personal data, including browser data.
The company's closest comparison is Brave, although Gener8 is more focused on mass mainstream adoption over rewarding ad attention with tokens, although Gener8 has had major cryptocurrency owners and creators offer major investments.
The mobile app is in response to consumer demand
The mobile app is a natural extension of its earlier web app. It's underpinned by a concept in academia called a personal information management system (PIMS). It enables you to access and centralise the data companies hold on you. And then, if you choose, to earn from that yourself.
However, the company is in conversation with major global device manufacturers (desktop and mobile) about having Gener8 pre-installed onto these devices at the point of purchase.
Furthermore, within 12 -18 months, Gener8 plans to offer more granular data sharing where users can choose with who they share their data, such as academic institutions or insurance companies.
Has GDPR made any real tangible difference to people?
When I think about data privacy, I think of GDPR. Since GDPR's introduction in 2018, we've witnessed several well-publicised breaches by companies like Google, H&M, and Marriott International.
Still, it's likely to be the thin edge of the wedge, especially as we're distracted by annoying cookie banners.
Jones is currently working with the UK Government and the Competition and Markets regarding the challenges of GDPR and data privacy in practice.
For Jones, the loopholes are the biggest problem, especially when it comes to dark patterns where companies make it hard to opt-in or out. He shared the example of the popular UK news website The Daily Mail.:
"If you click yes on the Daily Mail cookie banner, you allow 1436 different companies to start tracking you just by clicking on accept cookies. If you want to click No, finding the No button will take more than ten clicks. That's not in the spirit of GDPR."
Today's £5.1m funding round comes from a consortium of investors. They include ex-cricket captain of the West Indies, Chris Gayle and former chief executive of the British Olympic Association, Simon Clegg CBE.
The company plans to use the funding to continue to improve its tech. Gener8 is focused on refining its blueprint for the UK market but plans to roll out to other markets, specifically the US and Germany.