Who owns your data? That has been a long simmering issue in this new information-intensive economy. Now a new consensus seems to be emerging that people should be paid for access to their personal information (see story in the Wall Street Journal – The Market for Online Privacy Heats Up). A report released earlier this month by the World Economic Forum (Personal Data: The Emergence of a New Asset Class) argues that:
Increasing the control that individuals have over the manner in which their personal data is collected, managed and shared will spur a host of new services and applications. As some put it, personal data will be the new “oil” – a valuable resource of the 21st century. It will emerge as a new asset class touching all aspects of society.
It is good to see that information is being treated as an asset. I’m not sure I would go as far as equating personal data with the new “oil”. I think that title belongs to the broader class of intangible assets (see Mary Adams and Michael Oleksak Intangible Capital: Putting Knowledge to Work in the 21st Century Organization).
But, the WEF report raises the point we made a number of years ago in our report, Information Age: Reframing the Debate that many of the main issues of the information economy are not technological but social. They are also interrelated:
we currently treat privacy, computer security, intellectual property rights, freedom of information, “right-to-know” policies and free speech issues as separate policy areas. Yet, they are all part of managing the information commons: what information is and should be private, what information is and should be proprietary and what information is and should be public. A more comprehensive approach is needed.
The WEF report is part of an ongoing project on Rethinking Personal Data. They might want to also rethink the scope of the project and tackle some of these broader questions.