For centuries people have agreed that gold is very valuable. Men risked their lives trying to find it, banks built massive vaults guarding it, and we all have heard of Fort Knox, the most secure place in the world, where the U.S. Government is keeping its gold reserves.
So, what if there is a new source of value that could rival gold some day?
I am talking about data. There are a few thoughts I want to share with you today. First, data is valuable to all of us, and we are already saving money or making money from using it, but it’s not quite gold.
However, data becomes really valuable when it is aggregated and can be analyzed. Those who are in a position to do so may indeed strike gold.
Finally, whenever something is valuable, bad guys will try to get it. We all should be quite concerned about the fact that we do not own or control our data, and those who have it in their possession do not always succeed in protecting it.
There may be a better way.
Let’s start with how we already capture value from data. When you shop online, chances are you see the same item being offered from different sellers at different prices. Some sites even compare the offers for you, and you can see which seller is trustworthy based on the feedback. That saves you time and money every time you buy something (even if you end up buying it in the store, you can often get a price match based on the information you have collected).
We also save time when we use traffic apps. Not only do they show us the way, but they tell us where the traffic is backed up. Each device that has the app on it is sending information on “how it is moving” back to the app which can then determine where traffic is backed up and which alternative routes are faster.
Some apps like Waze even collect direct feedback from drivers about obstacles or other traffic occurrences. All of these benefits add up, but they don’t necessarily make us rich.
That is a different story for data aggregators. Sites such as Google or Facebook collect information about each one of us. What we look at online, how long we look at it, what we buy, where we go, who our friends are, and so forth.
From that information they create powerful profiles (I often tell people that if we could see our Google profiles, we would probably faint — they know us better than we know ourselves) and predictors of future likes and preferences.
That data is worth a lot of money to a lot of companies, so whoever can compile the data and sell it many times over will truly strike gold.
The sad part about it is that we don’t get any share of that gold. Yes, it is true, we did get to enjoy the benefits of Google or Facebook, but we have no rights (at least not in the U.S.) to see our data, ask for it to be deleted or participate in the value that can be created from it. Data is the new gold only for those who can collect a lot of it or for those who can steal a lot of it.
Last month I talked about the Digital Transformation Series of Advancing AI Wisconsin and St. Norbert College. Our first seminar in July was on “The Invisible War at Your Doorstep”, addressing Cyber threats and how to build defenses. Many people left with an uneasy feeling recognizing that there are so many potential threats that it is very difficult to protect yourself at all times. Even large companies such as Facebook, who employ 20,000 security engineers, had massive data breaches.
all of this. My personal data is all over the place. Some of it is with my financial institutions, some of it with my health providers. The government has data on me as do my online service providers, my phone company, and so on. If I am using connected devices, like a Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner, it collects data about the layout of my home and where/when it finds crumbs (i.e., when I am at home). If data is the new gold, I sure would like to have mine in a vault and have a key to the door, but in truth, I own very little of my data and when some of it gets stolen from somebody else’s vault, I get a notification and maybe a one-year complimentary subscription to Identity Theft Monitoring, but in the end, I am helpless.
A group of enterprising visionaries is working on a solution to change that. The concept is called Self Sovereign Identity. The main idea: what if each one of us had the rights to our data (which would require the laws to change) and a safe and secure mechanism to store all of it.
That mechanism would have to be “super secure” because if it were to be cracked, all of our data would be stolen at once. Equipped with these rights and tools, I would now be able to decide who gets to see and use my data, maybe even based on what they are offering in return.
I can issue a “permission” to use all or some of my data and I can let that permission expire. In short, I am in control, and I capture my share of the value of my “data gold” rather than allowing others to divide the spoils.
While this may sound like a crazy vision, the world is moving into that direction. The European Union has already passed laws to empower its citizens regarding data rights. The Government of Estonia has given its citizens ownership of their data. Technologies like Blockchain hold at least the promise to give us highly secure vehicles to store and share our data.
In the meantime, try to make the most of the data you do have and be thoughtful about the data you share with others.
Oliver Buechse is former chief strategy officer of Associated Bank, owner of strategy firm My Strategy Source and co-founder and executive director of Advancing AI Wisconsin.