Swisscom has been praised for taking personal data issues seriously after it became the first operator to join the newly launched Respect Network, but remains cool on its prospects.

The Respect Network (RN) officially launched this week promising to give users control back over their personal data and turn the established business model of cloud providers such as Amazon, Dropbox and Google upside down.

In doing so, it aims to give operators a new revenue stream.

In short, while Amazon et al offer customers their service for free with the quid pro quo that they can sell data to third parties, the RN charges customers a one-off fee but guarantees that they retain control over their data.

For €20 (if you’re in the first million to sign up), RN gives you a 1GB personal cloud from one of five cloud service providers on its accredited list.

These providers enable sharing over private peer-to-peer connections that follow the international principles of Privacy by Design.

In addition, users must sign up to a five-point Respect Trust Framework, which the company describes as a “groundbreaking legal contract for mutual privacy assurance”.

However, customers can then choose to sell their data to third parties. The proceeds are split three ways between the customer and the cloud service provider, while the final third goes to the RN to fund the development of new applications and services.

The exact pricing model for data has not yet been set, however.

The RN has been in development for over three years and comprises a coalition of 71 partners, including Swisscom.

Drummond Reed, Chief Executive of the RN, told European Communications that he had to give the Switzerland-based operator “a lot of credit” for seeing the potential in the service.

Reed said his organisation is also in discussions with Orange, as well as one of the largest US operators plus a couple of others around the world.

More should join, he believes: “Telcos are in the best position to be the new personal cloud providers. [The RN’s] sustainable business model gives them the competitive differentiation they need.”

However, this week Swisscom launched its own cloud storage solution called Docsafe that promises to individually encrypt each document.

A spokesperson told European Communications that it is “just an early investor” and the RN “has to prove market acceptance for their business model on their own”.

But the spokesperson added: “We might join the network later.”

Reed likens the RN to how a credit card network operates and to how the original proprietary email systems were forced to open up.

“Our model is based on relationships and we want everyone to benefit,” he said.

The RN aims to raise $25 million within a year from one million customers signing up.

“Protection of our digital life is the civil rights issue of our time. Being able to choose what happens with our private information on the Internet is something we should all have the right to do – for our sakes, and for the sake of future generations,” Reed said in the release to launch the membership drive.

A February survey by Orange found that just 16 percent of respondents felt that the benefits associated with their personal data were being equally shared between themselves and the organisations gathering it.

RN also plans to make a version for enterprises available.

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