Data capitalism is cashing in on our privacy . . . for now

John Thornhill in the Financial Times: “The buzz at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was all about connectivity and machine learning. …The primary effect of these consumer tech products seems limited — but we will need to pay increasing attention to the secondary consequences of these connected devices. They are just the most visible manifestation of a fundamental transformation that is likely to shape our societies far more than Brexit, Donald Trump or squabbles over the South China Sea. It concerns who collects, owns and uses data. The subject of data is so antiseptic that it seldom generates excitement. To make it sound sexy, some have described data as the “new oil”, fuelling our digital economies. In reality, it is likely to prove far more significant than that. Data are increasingly determining economic value, reshaping the practice of power and intruding into the innermost areas of our lives. Some commentators have suggested that this transformation is so profound that we are moving from an era of financial capitalism into one of data capitalism. The Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari even argues that Dataism, as he calls it, can be compared with the birth of a religion, given the claims of its most fervent disciples to provide universal solutions. …

Sir Nigel Shadbolt, co-founder of the Open Data Institute, argues in a recent FT TechTonic podcast that it is too early to give up on privacy…The next impending revolution, he argues, will be about giving consumers control over their data. Considering the increasing processing power and memory capacity of smartphones, he believes new models of data collection and more localised use may soon gain traction. One example is the Blue Button service used by US veterans, which allows individuals to maintain and update their medical records. “That has turned out to be a really revolutionary step,” he says. “I think we are going to see a lot more of that kind of re-empowering.” According to this view, we can use data to create a far smarter world without sacrificing precious rights. If we truly believe in such a benign future, we had better hurry up and invent it….(More)”