A few days ago, the world was shocked to discover that the NSA has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants in order to harvest personal intelligence, including the content of emails and internet search histories. This latest drama reminds us, if any reminder was needed, that the future of online privacy will be one of the defining battles of the digital age.
Much has been written about the future of online data exchange and the implications for the future of the information economy. Our take on this fundamental topic has been a trend we have coined Consumer Capital: a story of consumer empowerment, where consumers start to realise the intrinsic value of their data and seek new ways to store, safeguard and exchange their own personal intel for personal advantage.
This narrative is based on the growing evidence that: 1) consumers would like more control over the information they share with companies; and 2) consumers are starting to view their personal data as an asset that can be used to barter for better deals and offers. Indeed, we have recently come across an excellent example of this trend being brought to life, where a dedicated consumer has been painstakingly collecting his own personal data and selling it for $2 a day.
What’s more, tales of gross data intrusions, such as that leaked this month, will only heighten consumer fears over the use of their online information and encourage them to seek new ways to guard against online snooping.
But I think it is important at this stage of the big data debate to pause and be frank about what scenarios we are likely to see emerging in the short to medium future. Will we see new waves of people collecting and exchanging their data? Or will this just be an interesting experiment carried out by the few who have the know-how and dedication? I am leaning towards the latter.
Indeed, I expect that most of the key developments in data exchange over the next decade or so will be more brand-led than consumer-led. This will still be a story of consumer empowerment. But the advantages that consumers will most likely receive will be primarily down to brands looking to find new ways of incentivising the sharing of consumer data, in response to mounting public and regulatory pressure.
In the longer term, episodes such as the NSA story this month will raise the more fundamental question about whether the current model of data exchange is sustainable – if we truly wish to build a future information economy which is in the best interests of all. Will people, if they ever have, continue to accept the mining of their data in return for notions of free content or national security? Or, as Jaron Lenier argues, will we need to cast off the default notion that data should be free and only through the monetization of data will we all benefit from an information economy that will become ever more encompassing?
What is certain is that, as more stories akin to the NSA controversy hit the headlines, we will be forced to decide what kind of system of data exchange we wish to build. And whatever the outcome, this will be the fundamental question for the future of our information economy.
Future Foundation will be partnering with Interel to present The Big Data Dilemma thought leadership event on Thursday 20 June. The event will explore how businesses and government can come together to create viable, long-term policies that allow organisations and consumers to reap the benefits and avoid a stiflingly over-regulated environment. See more at: http://www.interelgroup.com/sector-expertise/technology/big-data/#sthash.EdJEbzT6.dpuf