Data was the new oil but is the heading the way of old oil

Written by on March 29, 2016 in Opinion with 3 Comments

Increase in fuel pricesIt wasn’t so long ago we were talking about data being the new oil. But today, just like oil, its value is diminishing rapidly. Like oil, over-supply will be the cause of big data’s demise, and as more and more people stop filling and using those vast data stores, their value will plummet as well.

Well, that’s my theory anyway, because until relatively recently, the public had no idea that its data was being collected in a wholesale fashion and being used by all and sundry for purposes ranging from marketing and national security to epidemic tracking and social engineering.

Remember the headlines not too long ago when the seemingly innocent Google StreetView vehicles were caught collecting home Wi-Fi information, and WikiLeaks exposed government efforts to collect data on ‘people of interest.’ Personal privacy was all but gone when Edward Snowden divulged the incredible efforts national security organizations went through to collect and decipher data on anyone under the guise of protecting citizens from terrorists.

However altruistic the motives and reasoning for these data collection activities, questions still emerged as to who else might be doing the same and just how safe the data was. The adage “if one person can hack a system anyone can” certainly holds true. If governments can collect whatever they like from the internet or phone conversations, so can the crooks.

Everybody and their dog collecting data

How surprising then to find that almost everybody and their dog is collecting information on us. The practice is so widespread and so entrenched that even those collecting the data for whatever purpose are blissfully unaware that someone else is pinching theirs under their very noses. It is quite common that one internet transaction is being tracked by any number of other systems and the data dispersed across the internet universe before you finish typing the next character.

The screenshots below (courtesy of RedMorph) are taken from a product called Spyderweb, and illustrate that after consciously visiting just four websites (cnn.com, ft.com, huffingtonpost.com and tmz.com), actually 402 sites are shown as being visited. “Visited” in this case means that your web browser shared information about you and they were allowed to place a cookie, bug or other tracker on your web browser.

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 2417.04

The second screenshot is with a privacy tool (RedMorph) enabled. The same four sites are visited but a total of 24 sites were needed to experience them (the additional 20 sites are CDNs, Font Libraries and other needed partners).

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 3517.14

How many times this data is copied and stored somewhere else is anyone’s guess, but the sheer volume of replication and duplication must be staggering. We hear about Google, Facebook and Amazon storing data for profiling and marketing reasons, and telcos doing the same to provide better customer experience, but what is it being used for by all those other collectors? Once upon a time, users were the customers of the internet – today they are the product!

And don’t bother searching to find out just how much data is being stored where, because the answer is virtually (no pun intended) unable to be calculated because the amount grows exponentially every second. Cloud storage company Backblaze reported in December 2015 that it was storing over 200 Petabytes of customer data (that’s a “2” followed by 17 zeroes with five commas thrown in) and it’s a comparatively small player compared to the big boys Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft.

So, here’s the point: does the corporate and national security world really need to collect, replicate and store all this data?

We continue to surf the web indiscriminately using open communications channels, browsers with no security built in, use apps that facilitate in-depth access to your data and, basically, don’t give a damn about our own privacy and security. In time we might wake up to that fact that our data is making somebody else lots of money and take back the rights to it.

Or maybe, as data stock levels continue to rise, like oil, its value will diminish. Time will tell.

First published at TelecomAsia.net

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About the Author

About the Author: Tony is a freelance writer, regular speaker, MC and chairman for the telecoms and digital services industries worldwide. He has founded and managed software and services companies, acts a market strategist and is now Editor of DisruptiveViews. In June 2011, Tony was recognized as one of the 25 most influential people in telecom software worldwide. .

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  1. Peter Coleman says:

    Perhaps for the first time in human existence we are faced with the prospect of dealing a commodity/resource for which there is no apparent or reasonable limit (information). Previously we had to look to the heavens and the endless boundaries of the universe for a similar phenomenon, although we have always known we are restricted by our humaness in how far we can travel. With data we are facing a test of Parkinson’s Law, at least the one often summarised as “The demand upon a resource tends to expand to match the supply of the resource.” So the more data there is the greater will be demand upon that data. Is data the magic pudding of resources and if so how will we know when we’ve had enough of it?

  2. Rahman Kazim Akheel Ur says:

    I suppose the issue is really one of differentiating between Relevant Data vs Otherwise. How much of what is collected is utilizable? But this begs another question: Does one know all that is utilizable to one? What if something irrelevant today becomes relevant tomorrow? Not unlikely given the state of disruptive innovations.
    I feel corporations and governments continue to collect data (left, right and centre!) to avoid being liable tomorrow on being asked where an otherwise JohnDoe piece of data, which has suddenly achieved significance (or notoriety), disappeared? Or why it was not collected in the first place despite technological opportunities? Reminds me of the non selective nature of trawling!
    However, unnecessary replication and duplication needs to be avoided, simply because it is conclusively ‘unnecessary’.

  3. Peter Coleman says:

    Rahman Kazim Akheel Ur, you raise a good point in terms of what data to keep and analyse and perhaps using some kind of relevancy meter could help, however I think the issue is really more closely aligned to the Rumsfeld principle of Known Knowns. In terms of data every day brings the opportunity of more Unknown Unknowns from disparate data sets and comparisons that can be made by multiple assets accessing the data for various purposes. I think history has shown that many of the great inventions and discoveries were made when the researchers and explorers were looking for something completely different.

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