Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/06/08/is_paoga_answer_to_the_privacy_problem/

Paoga - an answer to the privacy problem?

Repository for all your personal data

By Ben King

Posted in Security, 8th June 2005 09:28 GMT

Information wants to be free, as the dotcom era cliché would have it. Sadly, that is true of your private personal details as anything else.

The problem goes beyond spam, or the cataract of junk mail that pours through any letterbox with a postal address.

If you send your CV to a recruitment consultant, how do you know it will be shown only approved employers, and not sprayed around the internet? How do you know your medical records won’t find their way into the hands of a life insurance company?

Given that you don’t know where they go, the answer can only be trust. Do you trust your doctor, your supermarket, or your friendly neighbourhood headhunter?

Paoga is aimed at the people who would answer that question with a terrified ‘no’.

It’s basically a centralised, secure repository where all your personal data can be stored. Anyone who wants to access it can do so only with your permission.

It’s the brainchild of serial entrepreneur Graham Sadd.

“There needs to be some solution for people dealing with CVs, medical records and financial affairs. There are a lot of areas where people want to take back access control and responsibility for managing their data,” he says.

“People are starting to react to organisations hoarding data on them in numerous databases. The trouble is, while they are aware of the problem, they don’t even know where to begin. Half the time we don’t know where the data is.”

His solution is never to let the data out of your control. Take the area of buying a house, where one of Paoga's first customers, Real Property Information, is about to launch a service.

UK housebuyer will soon have to provide a dossier of facts about the house, called a Home Information Pack.

Rather than letting an estate agent (that's a realtor to you, transatlantic chums!) look after that information for you, the seller could keep it all in a Paoga account, and allow buyers to keep track of who accesses it, where and why.

For the estate agent, it takes away the headache of managing and securing that data themselves.

Using web services standards, Paoga will be able to plug in to the systems of estate agents or any other information provider, and seamlessly deliver secured customer data as and when the owner of the data allows it.

The data is held secure using line by line encryption. “Instead of just encrypting the database, we encrypt every entry. If somebody breaks into our personal records database, they would have to crack the encryption for your file. That security is very much the USP,” says Sadd.

Even Paoga can't look at the data without the data owners’ permission.

The service grew out of project for recruitment, where people were concerned about their resumes being sprayed across the internet, even landing embarrassingly on their own employer’s desks.

Hence the name – it’s not a new exercise fad, it just stands for ‘People Are Our Greatest Asset’.

“Often said but rarely acted upon,” Sadd notes.

Privacy and trust

The project meets with the approval of veteran privacy campaigner Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, which doesn’t distribute its plaudits lightly.

“From what I can tell the solution that they have been working on is central to the principles of privacy that we have been endorsing for many years,” he says.

“The way the technology allows the user some flexibility and responsibility over their own data is something that I would promote. I have been very clear publicly that I believe Paoga is an organisation to watch.”

Of course, for people unable to trust government agencies or large corporations, trusting an unheard-of start-up will take a giant leap of faith.

The people behind the company will be an important factor. Graham Sadd was the founder of a company called Graphics Technology Group, a company which made software for exporting information from databases into desktop publishing software.

It was taken over by a firm called Ventura, where Sadd was a vice president for a while. In 1993, it was swallowed by Corel.

Sadd then founded another company, Infobank, which sold business-to-business ecommerce software.

He left in 2001, “really because the company had got so big that it was beyond my core competence,” he says, and the company since became a casualty of the dotcom crash.

It ceased selling software, and morphed into the ill-fated cash shell Izodia, which is currently at the centre of a serious fraud office investigation and trial. (There is no suggestion of Sadd’s involvement in any wrongdoing).

He’s funded Paoga himself for the past few years, though some friends are now investors, too, including Gordon Smillie, formerly of Microsoft and now managing director of ICT at BT.

He has Simon Davies's seal of approval, at least: “I know Graham and the team, and I think personal credibility counts for a lot,” he says.

But will it catch on?

Sadd certainly has grand designs for his project. "I would like there to be one place where an individual can keep everything from a birth certificate to a death certificate,” he says.

He'd like to see third party certification, for exam results and the like, and even biometric data to be stored on Paoga.

The need for privacy which he is addressing is a genuine one, but will it really catch on? There are certainly some hurdles to clear first.

The obvious one is getting institutions to accept it. If Paoga can offer them a cost effective alternative to handling data themselves, as Sadd hopes it will, then they would presumably be interested.

But given how much time and effort companies, especially large ones, invest in profiling and marketing to their existing customer base, they’re likely to be reluctant to surrender control of the precious data that makes it possible.

The one thing Paoga is currently short on is announced customers. It already powers the Project Progress website, a data storehouse for users of the Government-standard Prince2 project management methodology.

Other than that, and Real Property Information, nothing is yet announced, but Sadd is in discussions with other players in recruitment and financial services.

Sadd and some of his colleagues still have a track record of selling to Government, which could stand in their favour.

The Government's GCAT catalogue is still powered by Infobank software. His investors include, Derek Sayers, formerly director and Chris Graham, formerly sales director of Fujitsu UK’s government business division. So the public sector might be a fertile furrow for Paoga to plough

Either way, Sadd admits the company has a mountain to climb, both to win commercial partners, and to win the trust of customers.

“Is a long play,” he says. “You have got to earn it. There is no other way of getting trust.” ®

Related stories

Citibank admits: we've lost the backup tape
Indian call centre staff nicked for fraud
EC wants to cap data retention laws
Stamping Passport
Everything you never wanted to know about the UK ID card