Data, the new gold or the new wild west?
“Data is the new gold” the oft-quoted phrase used to describe the importance of data in the 21stcentury. The origin of this specific quote is still unclear; however, the sentiment was first expressed by the British Mathematician, Clive Humby, in “Data is the new oil”. He and his wife, Edwina Dunn, were responsible for Tesco’s Clubcard, one of the first successful big data applications that transformed our shopping habits.
Data per se is not new, the difference is our ability to mine, analyse and gather intelligence from them en masse with algorithms run on powerful computers. When aggregated, the data, or data with context, results in information which is worth more than the sum of the individual parts, in fact, a lot more. The correlation between the volume of data and intelligence from them can be exponential. The bigger the dataset, the more useful it would be, which evidently presented temptations. This is reminiscent of the actual gold rush in California in the 19thcentury with very limited regulation on ownership, with evidence of wild west behaviour. Although regulatory controls did mature, not all stakeholders benefited equally from the opportunities. Nevertheless, the gold rush did have tangible benefits, with significant infrastructure developments throughout California and San Francisco’s population to grow 180-fold in six years.
This same pattern of behaviour is apparently observed in the 21stcentury gold, with the revelations of apparent data misuse. Understandably, there has been outrage on the turn of events with vocal calls of additional legislative controls on data use. Could this be a watershed moment for data, and specifically, for their regulations? Whilst baseline controls are required, regulators often provide stakeholders with a certain degree of autonomy, which is a necessity for innovation and progress. Once the dust settles, it is hoped that organisations will exhibit self-regulation, which should also allow legislators to show restraint. Data, like gold in the 19thcentury, has proved to be incredibly valuable, and it has brought not just economic wealth, but tremendous knowledge. To allow this to continue, hopefully, the wild west revelations of late could be circumvented.
Dr Wendy Ng, CISSP, CCNP; 4th April 2018