Data Responsibility

Data is the New Oil. Right?

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These days you keep hearing a new paradigm, ‘Data is the new Oil.’ Not only that, ‘Data is the new natural resource,’ ‘Data is Wealth,’ ‘Data is Money’ and so on.

Let us understand how does Data work as Oil – beyond its implied meaning that it is a source of wealth for the people who amass, process and market it.

Oil is buried deep under the Earth and Ocean in abundance that can be mined, processed, distributed so that users can consume it.

Data is to be mined from millions of users who generate it on daily basis as part of their daily routine – work life and personal life. Data is getting generated as you speak, as you write, as you shop, as you socialize (online and offline) and as you work. It can be in the form of text, image, audio, video or even coded languages. It may be structured in specified format or unstructured without following any rules.

How do you mine Data?

How do you mine it, as in the case of oil mining? In the case of oil mining, an oil rig is placed after a well is dug up by drilling a long hole into the earth, a steel pipe inserted into the dug hole, and with the help of collection valves called “Christmas Tree” fitted on the top, oil is extracted.

A different mechanism wok in the case of Data. One needs to create a business or use an existing business with a large spread out ‘net,’ very similar to the one used for fishing. The ‘net’ will be different depending on the size of the business you have – a ‘cast net’ in case of a small business or a startup, a ‘drag net’ if you are a medium sized business and a ‘bottom trawler’ if you are running a large business.

Like in fishing, the ultimate purpose of all types of nets is to fish as much Data as possible. Depending on the size of your business you would be able to deploy the most suitable and affordable net which can trap and fetch Data to the shore. Therefore, unlike oil mining, data mining happens more like fishing. Comparison of Data with fishing ends there.

What is After Mining?

The collected Data needs to be processed in order to monetize. Similar to processing crude oil in a refinery. For, first it needs to be transported to processors like crude oil being transported through dedicated pipelines or through containers to a refinery. Data is transported through high bandwidth communication pipelines or through storage devices to the processor.

Akin to ensuring security to the transportation pipelines or for the containers used in oil transport, communication pipelines used for transporting Data need high level of security. This is secured through high standards of encryption technology.

Once Data reached a processor, the processor processes it based on the requirements of the controller (the entity that sends the data for processing) – just as converting Crude Oil into Gasoline, Petrol, Diesel, ATF, LPG, Kerosene and so on in a refinery. Similar to using a set of chemicals for the refining process, the Data processing uses a set of algorithmic tools ranging from simple software to AI and Machine Learning solutions.

The processed oil is taken to outlets via various channels, through an elaborate distribution mechanism. Ditto for Data. Once analyzed, the processed Data also takes the same route by going through an elaborate distribution system to reach the customers.

Like oil retail, Marketing plays a key role in creating demand and reaching the final product out to prospective customers.

Oil Spills and Data Breaches

Move to the dangerous part – Oil Spills. Oil Spill is catastrophic, and it does happen often. Especially while transporting oil from Ocean recovery platforms to refineries. Data breaches are equally catastrophic to the ecosystem. It can have serious consequences on the lives of the people whose data is breached and can put to peril the businesses from where the data is breached.

Sociology of Data Management

Now to Sociology. In both the cases, as with any natural resource, the raw material is deemed to be owned by natural inhabitants from where the resource is explored. Despite this being the case and that the local inhabitants have a right on the resource, the finished product is sold to users for a huge premium at the end of the chain.

As with any other socio-economic exploitation issue, even in the case of Oil there has always been conflicts between the genuine owners of oil (indigenous people and land owners of the locality) and corporations who come with enormous resources to explore, extract and export oil for profit.

The same is unfolding in the space of Data where the genuine owners of Data will be disadvantaged by unethical businesses.

Unethical businesses can take Data to processing labs, analyse and sell it back in the market including to the same set of people from whom the Data is taken. Advertising, Marketing and Channel Sales will play crucial roles to create the demand, while governments will look the other way because of the prospects of huge tax revenue.

And in the end, it is like the definition of the smart salesman – ‘striping you off your undervalued assets, and selling it back to you for a fortune’.

Both Oil and Data.


Government & Regulatory Affairs Executive, IBM India/South Asia

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