Data: The new-age Crude Oil

Data is the new-age crude. It has emerged as the most vital and highly strategic resource for the world. It not only fuels everything from politics, economy, aid, crime and now even warfare. Tomorrow belongs to those who have mastered the art of capturing relevant data before time. The world has started to live in the forward with what happens tomorrow is wins more substance than what is going on at present. The words above are backed by concrete researches and surveys. Not long ago in early 2000s the top-most valuable companies of the world were oil giants. However, the technology has slowly creeped-in and overtaken the latter to bag the top six positions with only one oil firm remaining.

As it turned out, data was finally even more precious than oil and has the potential to explode into massive issues which can bring the whole nation to a standstill or the other can be held at ransom to few technocrats. The first lesson thus learnt is there is no free lunch and definitely not online. Free Internet is a myth as one has to sacrifice a lot to avail the freedom of data-the most vital commodity being the personal information which trickles down to many peripherals. It is here the data-brokers make most of the money by selling the web-oil or data to third parties.

The world has not forgotten the massive data infringement by the UK-based political consultancy Cambridge Analytica of millions of users of the popular social media network Facebook. The data which was harvested was found to be sold to various political campaigns. It was the height of mis-use of data to hamper the democratic fabric of the oldest democracy of the world.

Such grave occurrences reinforce the belief that there is a fundamental lacuna in the way incentives are woven in the internet. All online firms have to embrace the dilemma of giving more weightage to self-interests or those of the users. Even the oil cartels and monopolies in the beginning had suggested the need for concrete anti-trust policies likewise the growing influence of internet in all spheres warrants the need for more regulations and checkpoints. India has lived as an example and again has established a mark to show the world how digital infrastructure can be kept in the public domain and has given open access to data.

United States has taken the centre-stage in the technological revolution as it adopted an approach of bare minimum regulations as Section 230 of Communications Decency Act, 1996 exempts all online platforms i.e. websites from the liability of the content which is posted by the users which has given unbridged freedom to the tech giants like Facebook, Google, Twitter from all regulations and allowing enough room for innovation to grow. The drawback was that it also washed them clear of any accusation about the way third parties were handling the data of users.

Europe has taken cognizance and has adopted the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation which has moved the onus of privacy protection on the service providers. It has thus established firm regulations which define how data will be collected and handled, any violation of which will invoke heavy fines.

China has undertaken the approach of “Cyber Sovereignty” and the Chinese establishment has successfully kept the Chinese web world walled from the rest of the world via “the Great Firewall”  which does not allow access to foreign websites. Although there are gaps but the objective is national and personal security. Indians have another lens to look at cyber space and has built its systems as public goods by creation of open digital platforms well-knit into the Indian way of life. India has thus truly empowered its citizens with data by way of Aadhaar number which has formally brought every Indian into the formal economy.

Internet cannot be confined in legal mess as it is unlimited and unfinished. Nations have to adopt openness and allow the users to feel power over their own information and the way it has to be used. Keywords like competition, security, privacy, interoperability have to be factored in the basic thread of technology and not dealt with as separate legal clauses. It is time reshape Internet!




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