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Sansad TV: In-Depth: What is Data & Why is the World worried about Data Colonisation?

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Introduction:

It was in 2006 when British mathematician Clive Humbly said that Data is the new oil. We are in 2022, where Data Is No Longer The New Oil- It Is The World`s Most Valuable Resource. A new India build on a strong foundation of data and digital technology. Data in India can drive growth, industrial revolution 4.0 and bring governance closer to those governed.

What is Data?

  • Plain facts are data
  • Processed and organized in context, data becomes information.

Processed data:

  • Helps decide objectives, design tasks, recruit talent.
  • Complete tasks.

Data- Oil of the 21st century:

Benefits of using Data-

  • Data and Artificial Intelligence-
    • Over the past five years, the new thing has been the use of data in Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI has been around as an idea for 40 years but the availability of data, changed its contours.
    • The breakthrough was deep learning, which uses layers of neural networks to automate problem-solving. Because of data, software and machines have become more intelligent. Data combined with AI creates scale and speed.
    • For eg Netflix in USA, when Netflix began, it was not in the content business but in the distribution business. In 2013, it started creating its own content. It stores and analyzes data, who is watching what, when, how, and what they like. Today, it has over 100 million customers worldwide.
  • Business importance-
    • Companies like Apple, Facebook are essentially using data for commerce to understand customers’ preferences and selling them just what they wanted. Between 2000 and 2010, data was used largely for monetization gains.
    • For eg In the US, Google and Facebook have a 71% share of total digital advertising spending. In 2015-16, they captured 89% of all incremental digital advertising.
  • Huge future potential- 
    • Out of 5.5 billion people in the world over the age of 14, 2.5 billion have a smartphone. By 2020, every person will have four personal digital devices. The Internet of Things will soon bring 50 billion devices online. Smart companies have realized this.
    • Apple, Google, GE, Siemens, Amazon, Tencent, Baidu—all are moving from products and pipes to platforms. These platforms enable products that solve problems but they also capture and own data produced in the interaction.
    • They also use the data produced to become better at what they do. That, in turn, attracts more customers, generating more data.

However, like oil, monopolistic tendencies over Data can be harmful for people and consumers because-

  • Data is its own means. It is an unlimited non-rivalrous resource. Yet, it isn’t shared freely. What began as a differentiator is now the model itself. Platforms that accumulate user data disrupt industries, wield disproportionate influence and create silos. This leads to data domination.
  • There are multiple risks from data domination: violation of privacy, data colonization, and a winner-takes-all scenario that stifles innovation and competition. This isn’t just a technology challenge but also a policy one.
  • Thus Data is being compared with the oil with regard to its importance in the daily lives of the people and their rights connected to it.

Way forward:

  • Data has to be owned by the user and used only with her consent. Individuals should be in control of their own data. It should be used to empower the individual, not the state, or the companies.
  • Apart from a strong data protection law, we need an efficient consent process. This could take the form of data consent, Application Programming Interfaces (APIs ) that allow consent collection, storage, and audits. And at any time, users have the right to pull out their data. They can choose what they want to be part of, and what they don’t.
  • This prevents data colonization, yet enables and empowers AI. It tilts the privacy debate in favour of the user. And it creates real user choice at every level. Data is empowering in the hands of people. Inverting it allows freedom and choice. This leads data democracy.