This article was published on July 3, 2014

CitizenMe: A little app with a big vision – to help you trust internet companies again

CitizenMe: A little app with a big vision – to help you trust internet companies again
Martin Bryant
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Martin Bryant


Martin Bryant is founder of Big Revolution, where he helps tech companies refine their proposition and positioning, and develops high-qualit Martin Bryant is founder of Big Revolution, where he helps tech companies refine their proposition and positioning, and develops high-quality, compelling content for them. He previously served in several roles at TNW, including Editor-in-Chief. He left the company in April 2016 for pastures new.

As we sign up for more and more online services, it can be hard to keep track of exactly what rights we’re giving up to whom, and the feeling that we’re out of control of our own online identity can start to creep in. CitizenMe is a startup hoping to change that; first with a simple app and later with a grand plan for what could be described as a ‘marketplace for your identity’.

The CitizenMe iOS app has launched today with two main functions. The first is to keep track of the Terms of Service of popular apps installed on your phone. It flags up potentially controversial terms and a ‘traffic light’ system is used to highlight what’s good and bad about key points.

For example, Twitter gets a ‘green’ (good) for its transparency on law enforcement requests, an amber for its transparency about cookies and a red for having a broad copyright license on your content.

CitizenMe - services
CitizenMe - terms

You can vote on whether you agree with the rating each term has been given (maybe you think a broad copyright license is fair enough?) and if you’re unhappy, the app can take you straight to specific account settings for that service. This didn’t quite work every time for me (with Facebook it just opened the Facebook app on my iPhone – presumably a bug that will be fixed in a future release). We’re told that the app will alert users to future changes in any terms of service, too.

The second function of the app is to measure your personality based on the language you use in your social media posts. The idea here is to make you aware of the persona you’re putting across. While it’s currently quite a simple feature, it can be surprising and enlightening. For example, I consider myself liberal, but my social media persona is 72 percent conservative. I’d agree with the app that I’m more organized than spontaneous and more outgoing than reserved. Maybe I need to work on being just a little more assertive though.

Developed in conjunction with the University of Cambridge, this personality test will be expanded in future versions of the app. You’ll be able to see whether you tend to post grumpy messages on Monday mornings, and links to activity trackers will allow you to see, for example, if you’re more positive after exercise.

CitizenMe - personality
CitizenMe - personality details

The CitizenMe app as it stands today is quite useful, but it’s the UK-based startup’s big vision that’s intriguing. CEO StJohn Deakins says that a ‘personal data exchange’ is in the works. Integrating with existing ad exchanges, it will allow you to offer your detailed personal data to advertisers in exchange for a fee, of which you keep 90 percent, and CitizenMe gets just 10 percent.

It remains to be seen how well the economics of this deal with advertisers would work out, but if you consider the wealth of information CitizenMe could collect about you by linking personality to location and social media activity, that’s arguably more valuable to advertisers than a simple browsing history from a tracking cookie.

Deakins says the idea is to empower individuals and give them trust in the internet industry that has been on the wane in recent years. To this end, all data share with advertisers will be sourced from the CitizenMe app on your phone, it won’t be stored on the startup’s servers. If you don’t want to sell your data, you’ll have the option to pay a subscription for use of the app instead.

That’s all for the months ahead. For now, CitizenMe is a handy iOS app to have on hand that might get you thinking a bit differently about yourself and the online services you use. An Android version is on the way.

CitizenMe [App Store]

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