DATA COLONY – By Monikangkan Barooah

Colonisation has attained a paradigm shift in the present day world and christened itself to create virtual colonies without any boarders. In the last millennium the Portuguese, the French, the Spanish, the Dutch and the British have entered territories with a purpose to create colonies to run their businesses. Gradually their business interest intervened into the day to day affaires of Governance, and thereby took over full control of colonised entities. That was the fashion of those days of colonising a territory which has gained no ground with the passing of time. As The Portuguese, the French, the Spanish, the Dutch, the British, has entered countries to colonise their interest, a new form has been emerged by tech giants such as Facebook, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter etc to create data colonies. These companies have mastered the art of handling personalised information of their users and championed themselves as blue-chip companies of the world in terms of their market share.

To colonise a country in this 21st century, it does not required to be invaded with its military might but can simply be done by controlling activities through networks and databases with a single click of a mouse. Sounds interesting!!! Here it is why and how.

As the experts suggest that the Data is the new land, a new asset sub class, that is being rapidly colonised by corporations with the means to exploit this new resource. We have been giving our details to platforms like  Facebook, LinkedIn, and also to Banks, Insurance companies, Telcos, and so on. These information’s are vital to the persons offering it. One may pause and asked, what’s the big deal? my information has hardly of any value and may not find an inch of land in a place in an upcoming tyre II city like Guwahati. Well, if it is than hold your breath.  According to McKinsey Global Institute, the data economy value is in the order of USD3 trillion. The acquisition of the companies by the tech giants reveals the data as the new asset class. To corroborate the new asset class, one  need to look to Microsoft’s USD26 billion acquisition of LinkedIn or Facebook acquisition of WhatsApp for USD19 billion and Instagram for a mere USD1 billion and AT&T’s USD14.2 billion valuation of the value of its data assets as mentioned  in their annual reports. If you investigate the values involved in data assets, the figures are stunning. In fact It would be fair to say that most people have no idea how much their data is truly worth. That’s why the Data is the new Oil to this century and a driver of growth and change.

The internet extended tremendous opportunities in the last decade, divulging individuals to the benefits of a connected world, starting from making communication faster to accessing services easier. When we provide our location specific details to Google Maps, we actually provide our private information in exchange of a traffic-free route to our destination — and we are not aware that how our personal data may be used by Google.

The physical existences of our lives are as much as our digital self, which we tend to ignore. The difference between the two is that while we are conscious of our physical lives, we hardly care how our data is being used by its custodians, be it a government or a multinational company based in a developed country.

Let’s look into the business of the tech giant Facebook. The American company holds data, including personal and private information, of more than 241 million active Indian users and the numbers of users growing at a rocketing speed. This extent of information about 241 million active Indian users are enough to help the social networking giant influence decisions, both democratic and consumerist, taken by individuals. Facebook uses data to sell targeted advertising spots that make sure the ads you see are to your exact interest. This is called primary use of data and when used well by companies it greatly enhances customer experience like a bank giving you budgeting tips based on your spending habits. And so Facebook is influencing individual choices when it comes to what product they are buying next or which party will they vote for. That’s how they use the data that can be manoeuvred as per their appropriate uses.   So, we are all living our lives within the geographical boundaries of India and within the virtual boundaries of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, Airbnb, Uber, and hundreds of other mobile apps.

While discussing the data colonies we need to look into our own Aadhaar database. Aadhaar is the largest databases of information about individuals that includes connected and those who are not connected i.e the poor and are illiterate. There is a huge potential that these information may be used to catch people in a virtual captivity. The Government has decided to link Aadhaar to all vital networks like Bank, taxation, travelling and even to obtain death certificates etc. If the government of the day, desires one can be digitally switch off within a second or may face digital death, even if he has found to be alive in a physical self. But than the physical self would be of no use without switching on the digital self.

As the number of individuals going online increases rapidly and more and more information is turned digital, a strong race to compete for the ownership of data will be visible. And the strength of the “coloniser” would be judged by the vastness of the data “colonised”. This dominance of data online is increasing the power of the tech giants over individuals all around the world. Gradually, borders will not decide control over people or their nationality. Instead, control over data will. The future of control over humanity will be decided by who owns how much of our data.

Today, all the tech giants are investing heavily in artificial intelligence, internet of things, cloud computing etc. From your fridge and Microwaves cookers to mobile phones and cars, almost every tech-enabled device or gadget we use is collecting massive amounts of data. Technology is driving growth in almost every sector on this planet.

The availability of data has created new highways, new infrastructure, new businesses, new monopolies, new politics and so the new economics. Governments in various parts of the world are already fighting battles with tech giants for fear of losing sovereignty over their people or jeopardising their security. So the data plays a pivotal role in this present day world and comes as a game changer towards creating a new economy.

With the advent of artificial intelligence coupled with relative infancy of data commercialisation, a new form of data colonies sits with  means to navigate uncharted waters and territories of the new world. And that’s why, the need of the hour is to take a strategic view and formulate policies of data colonisation, privacy and data ordinance.

Related Articles

Close