It isn’t oil anymore that’s the most valuable resource; it is data, screamed a recent issue of The Economist. Apparently, profits from the ‘Big 4’ (Amazon, Alphabet, Facebook and Microsoft) are surging and in the first quarter of 2017, they collectively made over $25bn in net profit .
What is data and how much of it do we own? What are the different types of data available and who owns this virtual product that has heralded the 4th industrial revolution?
Did Virgin Trains break data protection laws when they released a video of Jeremy Corbyn on one of their trains looking for a spare seat? Or did the company that collected intimate details of its app users flout laws?
Turns out, Virgin Trains did not break any laws whereas We-Vibe flouted laws, so much so that they are now having to pay out thousands of Canadian dollars to users who bought their intimate devices and used the app with it.
On the face of it, there are two types of data- public data and private data. But the real rub comes in when you realise that your private data that you put on your social profile is being used by the social media giant to flog advertising on its platform.
The issue of privacy will never go away and the Big 4 have only gotten stronger because most of their products and services are free. The incredible growth comes from consumers handing over more and more of their data as a trade-off for free access in a virtual world of increasing paywalls. Add that to recent cases like UK network Three zero-rating the likes of Netflix, TVPlayer, Deezer and SoundCloud and the massive NetNeutrality debate it sparked.
Data is not shrinking but going the opposite way. With conversations around self-driving cars becoming more serious, it is only a matter of time before we start discussing who gets to keep the data and learn from it: insurance companies, car manufacturers, cloud data providers or the humble user.
Location information, where you eat, what you eat and how many pints you drink on a night out gets tabulated on a cloud somewhere and is increasingly being used by recruiters to vet candidates when they apply for jobs. While the older generation doesn’t really understand how much of their privacy is at stake here, it is the millennial who are happy to hand data over on a plate.
Self-driving connected cars, mobile phones and IoT devices that track every lightbulb, home temperature and destination promise to make our lives easier, but they are making it easier for targeted advertising to be served to individuals. Look at a pair of sunglasses or a t-shirt on Amazon and chances are that you’ll be hounded by the particular item across all social forums, websites and even in your email inbox. However, it is a classic case of consumer browsing data being used across platforms to track and target.
Big data is big business, especially if it has been collated using different sources. Consumers tend to tick the ‘I have read the terms and conditions’ box blindly but once there is a bouquet of information about them, the value of it trebles. Buying that data back is not just expensive but also very complicated. With GDPR coming into effect next year, the situation is likely to become more complex. There has, additionally, been talk of how data can be used and abused especially with the advent of smart cities and how companies like Uber, Deliveroo, Lyft and Google Maps collate and use data. A New York City based startup called Stae is attempting to create and provide technology to help government entities to make the best use of their data. A nearly real-time feed from those companies could help cities sort out traffic and occupancy patterns and other issues going forward. Nigel Jacob, co-founder of Boston’s Office of New Urban Mechanics told Fortune: “A nearly real-time feed from those companies could help cities sort out traffic and occupancy patterns and other issues going forward. Some of these companies provide data now, but it’s typically in summary form, and not useful.”
Stae is working on an Application Programming Interface, or API, to collect incoming data from many sources and then use it for not just civic functions but to also make it a more neutral playing field for internet companies so smaller ones don’t get stifled while bigger ones continue to flourish. Because obviously, it wasn’t for companies to bloat that the internet was invented by Sir Tim Berners-Lee!