The BBC shows its audience the future of personal data access and consent

5 minute read
Create a new model for users to access their personal data and consent to data sharing
Use Solid Pods to showcase a new approach to data
Create a foundation for an interoperable data ecosystem. Improve data literacy and empowerment while fostering trust with BBC users. Be a leader of innovation in the media landscape.

As the world’s premier public service broadcaster, the BBC has a mission to act as a leader of innovation in the media landscape in service of that public value. The BBC is evolving into a digital-first media organization, which has prompted its leaders and researchers to reexamine how data collection practices shape the BBC’s relationship with its audience. With consumer trust levels at an all-time low and privacy concerns at an all-time high, how can the BBC show its audience and the rest of the media industry what trustworthy personal data management looks like? And how can the BBC use this new position of trust to provide even better services to its audience?

In response to these questions, the BBC Research and Development team built a solution that empowers its users to view and make choices about their own data. The project—called BBC Together + Data Pod—pairs a social TV-watching experience with unprecedented access to one’s own BBC viewing data. The offering relies on personal data stores (Pods) that use Inrupt’s Enterprise Solid Server technology to deliver new insights to the BBC and its users.


Create a new model for users to access their personal data and consent to its collection

Media consumers are becoming more concerned with how their personal data is used: According to research cited by the BBC, at least 39 organizations hold personal data on the average UK citizen. And 82% of people are unsure of what personal information companies hold about them. As a global leader in public broadcasting, the BBC has the ability to address these concerns and shape the future of the media landscape by creating a new digital ecosystem based on accessibility, accountability, and human values. 

The BBC’s challenge is to create a model where users can access the data they generate and consent to its usage by the BBC. To achieve this goal, the BBC needs to:

  • Reconsider how the BBC stores, processes, and shares data online
  • Focus on the role of personal data to enable collaborative and social features; and
  • Change how people think about and use personal data. 


Showcase a new approach to data through the BBC Together + Data Pod Project
A screenshot of the BBC Data Pod project home screen. It reads: The data bit. This is an exclusive Data Pod powered service from the BBC. Data Pod. Provided by the BBC. This experimental services tests ideas about data, so your BBC Together+ data will be saved in a secure place online known as a Data Pod. It'll unlock your ability to: see data collected about you; supervise its use. If you're ok using BBC Together+ with a Data Pod that will be created for you then continue. First button says, "No thanks, leave BBC Together+". Second button says, "Unlock & continue". Third button says "I don't understand Data Pods.

The BBC first started working with Solid and Inrupt in 2019, attracted by the principles of universality and openness embodied in Solid technology. Their research with Solid eventually led to the My PDS project in 2021, which used interoperable Solid Pods to pull in viewing and listening data from Netflix and Spotify. The data was then used to provide each user with improved streaming recommendations. 

Confident of Solid and Inrupt’s solution, and using insights gained from the My PDS proof of concept, the BBC produced BBC Together + Data Pod, its first public-facing application using Solid technology, in 2022. 

BBC Together + Data Pod is a social TV experience that allows users to watch iPlayer shows together. Detailed data from those “watch parties” is stored in the private Solid Pods of the users, where the BBC cannot see it. After the watch party, the BBC makes the data available to the user, who has the option to edit, delete, or share the data with the BBC to help build future services. 

In producing its first public-facing Solid application, the BBC has taken a first step in redefining how it uses data to deliver its services. It has created the means of using data across departments to improve BBC services. According to Nick North, the BBC’s Director of Audiences, users could eventually have the opportunity to share their personal data to enhance the experience of everything they do, including every touchpoint they have with the BBC and every interaction they have with other companies in the media market.

Quotation mark symbol
The BBC is setting out a gold standard for personal data management within the media industry and hopes to influence global policy and legislation with this work.
Eleni Sharp
Head of Product
BBC Research & Development

Solid Capabilities and BBC Together + Data Pod

The BBC’s app Together + Data Pod uses permissions, sharing, and consent to collect better user data. With data that is shared freely, the user data will contain improved personal context and preferences that will ultimately improve BBC services and content recommendations. 

The following diagram was adapted from a Solid World Presentation in November 2022.

An illustration of a man sits at his laptop. He is looking at the BBC Together+ screen. This is labeled 1. There are two arrows coming out of the screen: one points to Anonymous usage analytics (labelled 2) and the other points to a User Pod with the caption "Watch session data" (labelled 3). There is an arrow that comes out of the Anonymous usage analytics that points to a BBC Together logo (labelled 4). There is an arrow that comes out of the User Pod that also points to the BBC Together logo. The arrow says "If Access".
  1. Together + Data Pod App: This user-facing application allows BBC audiences to arrange watch parties, view content, and see the data they generate during their viewing sessions. The app is connected to the user’s Pod, making it possible to manage how their data is shared with the BBC. 
  2. Anonymous Usage Analytics: This data is general analytics, limited to anonymous information which includes data on how many people used the Together + Data Pod application and how many people chose to share watch session data from their Pod back with the BBC. 
  3. Watch Session Data: The Together + Data Pod app saves supplementary data about each user’s watch sessions on the user’s Pod. Users can then share this more detailed information from their Pod with the BBC if they choose. Examples of supplementary data include what shows the user watched and who they watched them with. With this additional data, the BBC can have more insight into how a user has interacted with the application and its content library.
  4. BBC Together + Data Pod Team: If users consent to share the data in their Pod, BBC R&D can access a user’s watch session data. If a user should revoke the access, the BBC is no longer able to retrieve data from the Pod.

In creating the the Together + Data Pod application, the BBC was able to:

  • Explore how to build media experiences with personal data store technology
  • Test and research UX challenges and interactions associated with user-centered data management with live BBC audiences
  • Address technical challenges like distributed flows and asynchronicity, offline tasks, and off-Pod personal data usage

In November 2022, members of the BBC Research & Development team appeared on Solid World to explain why they chose to work with Solid. They emphasized greater data insights and consent management, and walked through how they presented Solid Pods to a general audience.

By experiencing Solid through applications like BBC Together + Data Pod, audiences learn that their contributions generate value. They can improve the BBC’s products and services and unlock new value for themselves as they combine data sets or easily share information with other media organizations.

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