Chris J Powell

Will Personal Data become the Next Oil???

The sources of inspiration for my daily posts are wildly varied and today’s post came from a rabbit hole that I wondered into yesterday at work while doing a one click after another search about a company that I am working with.  I have been to this site before and as with any good research site, the content is refreshed and updated but in this case I was surprised, shocked and pleased with what I found.

Earlier this month the World Economic Forum released a whitepaper on steroids titled “Rethinking Personal Data: Strengthening Trust” and the premise of the research paper is to stimulate thought and generate real conversation around what may be the next big commodity that is traded freely on a Global Basis.  Just as the Silk Route, Roman Roads and the English Fleet were the economic backbones of their era’s so to will the flow of Data Freely but also securely be the formation for the economy for years to come.

When I here the term Big Data I don’t necessarily think about the fact that the splicing, connecting and comparing of two data points becomes a new piece of Data that can then again be manipulated, and turned into another data point.  When we get better at analysis, so to does the exponential growth of potential data points grows exponentially.  I have many clients that tell me that Big Data is not about them but then in the next sentence say they are looking for ways to add value to the business through Technology.

One of the most profound statements from the report lays out the entire 1st Chapter:

  • The digital nature of personal data means it can be copied infinitely and distributed globally, thereby eliminating many of the trade carriers which exist for physical goods
  • Data, unlike most tangible assets, is not consumed when used; it can be reused to generate value
  • Data grows ever more connected and valuable with use.   Connecting two pieces of data creates another piece of data and with it new potential opportunities (as well as new potential harms)
  • The role of the individual is changing.  Individuals are no longer primarily passive data subjects.  They are also increasingly creators of data.  In addition personal data is intimately linked with an individual’s background and identity, unlike interchangeable commodity goods.

There is however a decline in the Public Trust when it comes to the belief that our Personal Data is not only secure but is not going to be misused.  While I agree that we all have a responsibility in ensuring that those who take our data are living up to their own Privacy Policies the reality is, very few of us ever read those policies and the convenience of a Tweet or a Facebook Status update is far more important than the fact that organizations that connect to the APIs of Social Media Networks are effectively able to track us and analyze many of the most intimate details of our lives.

At the same time there is a powerful good that can come from the access to this type of information:

Or consider the case of Google Flu Trends, which uses individuals ostensibly private flu-related search words and location data to detect potential flue outbreaks in real time, as opposed to the weeks-old government data that currently exists. Researchers have found that the data has a high correlation with upswings in emergency room activity, and could provide the basis for early-warning systems to detect pandemics and save millions of lives.

The future is at a cross roads right now and for the first time in human history the Individual has a real opportunity to participate and shape that future in profound ways.  I here all the the time from friends, colleagues and even clients that their Personal Data should be held to a higher standard and protected better by Governments and Corporations and then the very next day (or minute in some cases) they do a Status update on Facebook or send our a Tweet or for my really Geeky friends shoot a post to Google+ and that information is instantly and forever available to be worked, reworked and built into a personal profile.

Big Data is here and it will continue to find New Ways to help us and hurt us but educate yourself on what data is going to be available for people, governments and corporations to use.  Read through the WEF whitepaper…it is worth the 36 page investment of time!


Chris J Powell

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