Data Mine or Data Yours? Info Wars and the Escalating Arms Race

October 3, 2013
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Data matters.Image It’s the very essence of what we care about. 

Personal data is not equivalent to a real person—it’s much better. It takes no space, costs almost nothing to maintain, lasts forever, and is far easier to replicate and transport. Data is worth more than its weight in gold—certainly so, since data weighs nothing; it has no mass.

Data matters.Image It’s the very essence of what we care about. 

Personal data is not equivalent to a real person—it’s much better. It takes no space, costs almost nothing to maintain, lasts forever, and is far easier to replicate and transport. Data is worth more than its weight in gold—certainly so, since data weighs nothing; it has no mass.

Data about a person is not as valuable as the person, but since the data is so much cheaper to manage, it’s a far better investment. Alexis Madrigal, senior editor at The Atlantic, points out that a user’s data can be purchased for about half a cent, but the average user’s value to the Internet advertising ecosystem is estimated at US $1,200 per year.

Data’s value—its power, its meaning—is the very thing that also makes it sensitive. The more data, the more power. The more powerful the data, the more sensitive. So the tension we feel around data governance is inevitable. If nobody cared about some piece of data, nobody would try to protect it, and nobody would want to access it or even bother to retain it in the first place. Data mining industry leader John Elder reflects, “The fact that it’s perceived as dangerous speaks to its power; if it were weak, it wouldn’t be a threat.”

Ever since the advent of paper and pen, this has been the story. A doctor scribbled a note, and the battle to establish and enforce access policies began.

But now, digital data travels so far, so fast, between people, organizations, and nations. Combine this ability of data to go anywhere at almost no cost with the intrinsic value of the stuff that’s traveling, and you have the makings of a very fickle beast, a swarm of gremlins impressively tough to control. It’s like trying to incarcerate the X-Men’s superhero Nightcrawler, who has the ability to teleport. It’s not confined to our normal three dimensions of movement, so you just can’t lock it up.

Click here to access the full published article as a PDF

image: data wars/shutterstock