Irfon Watkins is a serial entrepreneur, that founded and sold companies across the API spectrum. Currently CEO of DOVU he was previously founder and CEO of Coull, a programmatic video advertising company processing over 15 billion requests a month from over 118 countries.
Irfon shares his thoughts on the PrivTech industry, and the story behind Tapmydata – the blockchain-based personal data company he co-founded in an exclusive interview with BitCourier.
BitCourier: What is the story behind Tapmydata? How did you come up with the idea?
Irfon Watkins: We realised back in 2018 that GDPR and the blockchain were a unique opportunity for people to take back control of their data and break the silos that currently hold it.
Until then, companies treated the data like it was their property, and marked their own homework when it came to dealing with people’s rights. The only times' regulators got involved was in the case of a massive breach, or mass complaints from the public. We wanted to give people a voice around their data, and consumer-grade tech to exercise their rights, with the blockchain keeping score as a distributed statement of record.
BitCourier: How was the initial response when you launched? Who became your first organisational users?
Irfon Watkins: It was clear very quickly that consumers loved the tech and were curious about where our data ends up. It’s fair to say businesses were cautious, and we spent a lot of time showing how our tech is secure and can help them, if they want to do the right thing (which goes beyond their compliance obligations).
Over the period of a year, we built up over 500 organisational users for the system, led by those with the greatest consumer exposure, like phone providers, or with an ethical stance, such as charities. The biggest companies like Facebook, Apple, and Google refused to use our service, but that’s hardly surprising given their current battles with the US, EU over control of the web!
BitCourier: What has interest/momentum been like recently? Did COVID-10 affect your business?
Irfon Watkins: There has been a lot of interest generally in privacy with contact tracing, and with our token in particular. We took investment from Outlier Ventures and joined their accelerator last summer, which helped us straddle both the PrivTech and crypto communities.
COVID bounced a lot of people and businesses online for the first time and we quickly adapted our platform to enable secure check-ins and service messaging for organisations around keeping safe, which has been popular.
Tapmydata is built around data rights at its core but is ideal for any situation where data needs to be shared securely between people and organisations, with privacy baked in by default.
BitCourier: Why did you decide to replace email sequences between companies and customers? Do you think email is outdated?
Irfon Watkins: Email is both a major risk from a security standpoint and an unsuitable way to handle privacy and private data. Most organisations were defaulting to email, asking consumers to supply scans of their passports, utility bills, etc, and send them to a generic address before they’d begin to discuss data requests.
We’ve replaced that with a secure, peer-to-peer platform for requests, a data wallet and the ability to scan, verify and store your ID documents once, then create an artifact that can be used for validation. Most importantly, everything’s encrypted and no-one but the user and the organisation they’re interacting with has any visibility or access, including Tapmydata!
BitCourier: Can Tapmydata solution co-exist with other KYC products available on the market? How would DSAR work in this case?
Irfon Watkins: Absolutely; we built our own, light-touch solution for ID verification which was designed specifically around the requirements for data requests. This is designed to integrate with more in-depth KYC platforms and we already have an API and relationships with some of the key providers.
We also used Tapmydata technology, integrated with a third party AML service to handle the KYC requirements for our TAP token launch last December, and are planning to make this available for use by other crypto projects on a commercial basis later this year.
BitCourier: What is the main use case for TAP tokens today?
Irfon Watkins: Right now, TAP tokens are used as fuel in the data rights transactions we just discussed. Users earn tokens by doing actions that benefit the community, like verifying their data or scanning ID. Companies buy tokens to fulfill requests at scale, far cheaper than current manual solutions or KYC services.
On our roadmap for this year is the ability to crowdsource verifiable data with NFT’s & wrapped TAP tokens; a data owner can build their data profile and package up their profile information into NFTs (Data Nuggets) to be exchanged for Tap tokens (ERC20).
BitCourier: Let’s face it – the most popular reason why the general audience is attracted to cryptocurrencies is earning money. How do earning cryptocurrency from personal data offered by Tapmydata works?
Irfon Watkins: With the new approach, organisations buy TAP to exchange for verifiable consent tokens or to make 'reverse data requests' to petition data owners to sell their data for consumer research and marketing purposes. This makes the token more valuable and avoids the ‘earn and spend’ rut many projects get stuck in.
We’ll update our native app (IOS & Android), token mechanics and closely integrate the secure web messaging portal to bring along 4,500 existing users and introduce them to the Tap ERC20 token and decentralized world. Users are given the means (metamask, WalletConnect) to link their own ETH wallet and export Tap ERC20 tokens.
BitCourier: What are the biggest challenges facing the personal data management industry right now? Do you think we would see more protocols dedicated to privacy in the near future?
Irfon Watkins: I think it’s an exciting time for the PrivTech world as they emerge from the compliance space and integrate with the marketing and Web3 tech stacks. Projects like Ocean and Streamr have shown there is a healthy market for ethically sourced consumer data and insights and there is great potential for Tapmydata and others to make this more accessible to consumers beyond the crypto community. Data is the new DeFi!
BitCourier: What kind of partnerships are you looking for (integrations, solutions, etc.)?
Irfon Watkins: Tapmydata can offer partners (Balancer, decentralised marketplace, crypto project) a unique solution to their legal requirements and a way for them to onboard users, clients, and investors with privacy and a public statement of record via blockchain. We believe this offering is unique in the current market, and look to raise further funding in H2 2021 to develop out from the MVP.
BitCourier: Where can UK-based users purchase TAP tokens today?
Irfon Watkins: You can buy tokens on our official UniSwap pool.
We’ll be announcing news on DEX and CEX partners soon via our community on Telegram.