Data is the New Oil. This statement by none other than the Indian Oligarch and Asia’s richest person, Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries, the conglomerate with interests spanning Petrochemicals, Information Technology, Retail and Media, among other things, epitomizes how data has become the new battleground for businesses seeking to acquire, control, disseminate, and profit from it. Indeed, the stupendous success of Big Tech firms such as Google, Facebook, and other social media giants is mainly on account of their superlative “data harvesting” strategies which they employ to good effect.
Future business battles would be over who acquires the most humongous data store, who controls its flow, and how they use it. Mere possession of consumer data does not mean much, if all that you are going to do is to keep it with you. Instead, businesses should have the ways and means to “mine” data, and then use it in a way that generates returns and profits. These means can include targeted marketing and advertising based on consumer preferences “gleaned” from data stores, market “sensing” and market “intuiting” strategies based on “analytics” that such data can be “put through” to good effect, and most importantly, selling both “raw” and “structured” data to other businesses, including Third Party marketers and firms wishing to acquire data about their target markets and customers.
No wonder the battles have already begun, what with Big Tech firms and Conglomerates such as Reliance making all out efforts to control the flow of data. For instance, Facebook acquires its user data pertaining to as basic information such as Demographic, Geographical, and Profile user data, and more advanced data gleaned from user “likes”, posts, and reading and sharing history that it can then use to generate a “comprehensive” view of consumer behavior. Indeed, among all firms, Facebook is perhaps the most aggressive in the way it goes about data acquisition, and data modeling. No wonder regulators worldwide are up in arms against what they see as its monopolistic tendencies to control data.
Talking about regulations, with the Digital Age in the process of emerging, the battle lines between regulators and tech firms are being drawn with each vying with the other in terms of what is allowed and what is not in the Big Bad World of Data. Moreover, even governments are jumping into the fray as well as battles over data are concerned, as can be seen from the worldwide “push” to make Big Tech more “accountable” in terms of how they acquire, control, and manage the “flow” of data. Indeed, the battles over data are just beginning and what we see now is just a teaser as to how future business battles would be fought.
So, where does all this leave the users and the customers on whose data these fights are erupting? To start with, as users and customers, we must be wary of what data we are “giving away” and what “information” about our consumer preferences are we “divulging”, inadvertently or otherwise. The next time you “breeze through” Apps and Websites, clicking the “access” and “grant permission” buttons, remember that you are providing businesses with “rich” information about yourself and your consumer preferences and so, think twice even when you are “twitching” to see the latest photos or sexy videos of celebrities and movie stars.
When Data is the New Oil, are the “pirates” far behind? As more and more instances of “hacking” appear in the news, it is worrying that Data Security is almost an “afterthought” for most businesses who possess user and customer data. Indeed, as wars erupted in the past (and continue to do so even now) over Oil, it is more than likely that Battles over Data would determine the Winners and Losers in the Digital Age. With so much at stake, the hackers have everything to gain from “exploiting” vulnerabilities in the Cyber Defenses of businesses and then making such stolen data public and for a price to anyone who wants it.
Take for instance the recent decision of the Global Financial Services giant, Citibank to “withdraw and exit” from many consumer markets, including India, which was one of its profitable markets for a long time. If news reports are anything to go by, a key factor in Citibank’s decision were concerns from regulators in the United States over its Data Governance and Data Security strategies. Prompted by repeated warnings and even Fines running into Hundreds of Millions of Dollars, Citibank finally threw in the towel.
Last, unlike Oil, data is not finite and hence, a potential “bottomless honeypot” for the taking. This can work both ways as accelerating business strategies can result in a “race to the bottom” just that there would be no “end” to such battles over data and on the other hand, can also lead to a Wild West scenario where “finders, keepers” tactics can be quite a headache for regulators and most importantly, consumers, for whose data are these battles being fought, after all.
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