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Killi founder Neil Sweeney in Toronto in 2014.

Darren Calabrese/The Globe and Mail

Toronto data-control startup Killi Ltd. will launch a new product this week that it hopes will give consumers a greater chance to access and control the digital information being sold about them between corporations and data brokers.

Killi launched in 2018, just months after Facebook Inc.’s Cambridge Analytica data-misuse scandal brought simmering concerns about large-scale corporate data gathering into the public conversation. The company pitched itself as putting the power of data collection into consumers’ hands through a blockchain-based app that would let users share information with companies in exchange for regular cash payments.

Now Killi wants to give users more explicit control over the data about them being used and sold by companies, by letting them edit the profiles those companies have already built. As Killi developed relationships with brands and data companies, founder Neil Sweeney said his team recognized they could partner with them to let people see the data for themselves – and make the data sets more accurate, if they want.

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Starting Tuesday, the company said its new Killi Unveil product will let consumers access, authenticate and edit profiles – in addition to making money from it if they consent to its sale. The company now says it’s gained access to 320 million of these profiles for users to edit through its relationships with dozens of companies that use or broker this data.

For users, this can mean greater control, Mr. Sweeney said. And for companies, it can mean more accurate, value-added data to use when generating advertising and building products.

“It puts pressure on companies who are not working with consumers to work with us because of the added consent,” Mr. Sweeney said in an interview. He added that Killi has developed relationships with data companies such as Lotame Solutions Inc., which enriches data sets for corporate customers, and major data users, including Microsoft Corp., which use data for building media plans.

Mr. Sweeney hopes that more companies will seek out data sets that were generated with users’ consent especially after jurisdictions such as California have begun enacting laws that require giving citizens the right to edit or correct data about themselves. (Killi will also allow consumers to delete some or all of their data from its profiles.) Killi plans to market its app on numerous platforms as an easy way for consumers to access their profiles.

Killi’s new pitch could be a hard sell for consumers. It relies on the notion that data collection is inevitable rather than avoidable, which many privacy experts believe should be possible. And although its first iteration helped it build relationships with data brokers and users, Mr. Sweeney also said in 2018 that he hoped to attract millions of consumers. He now says it has tens of thousands of users.

It makes revenue from selling the data that its users have consented to share, splitting those revenues with users – but an annual report filed last month with Canadian regulators showed it only pulled in $177,843 in 2020 from Killi-related operations after spinning out from its former parent company.

But Mr. Sweeney believes he can convince people to come to Killi to gain control over their data by telling them just how much that data is worth. According to Killi’s calculations, using average-revenue-per-user data from public filings, that’s an average of about US$6,000 a year.

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“You tell people that data is being collected and they say, ‘Yeah, I know.’ When you tell them it’s worth US$6,000, they have a visceral reaction,” said Mr. Sweeney, a serial entrepreneur who sold the ad-technology company Juice Mobile to Yellow Pages Ltd. for $35-million in 2016.

Once people validate their identities on Killi’s platform, Mr. Sweeney said they can see up to 250 attributes that have been collected about them through their digital travels, ranging from their field of work to their interest in NASCAR to their smoking habits.

Killi is also marketing itself as a private-sector solution to a problem that, outside of jurisdictions such as Europe and California, has gone largely unaddressed by governments. Despite years of public backlash since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, politicians have been slow enacting policy to help people gain better control of their data. Canada only introduced legislation attempting this last fall.

And although some Big Tech companies have become more transparent about what they collect, and how, they’re reducing the information they collect at a glacial pace.

Alphabet Inc.’s Google , for instance, in recent months has promised to stop using “third-party cookie” technology that tracks individuals around the internet to learn about their browsing habits. But that won’t meaningfully happen until at least 2022, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation privacy-advocacy group has said its replacement tracking tech, which focuses on groups, carries its own privacy risks.

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