Future Commodities: Corn, Cotton, Oil, Metals … and Data

Over on one of the "fun" blogs I read, Boing Boing, there's an interesting article today called Jacques Vallee's Stating The Obvious: I, Product. Taken with a grain of salt given the somewhat 1984-sci-fi-the-machines-are-going-to-GET-us vibe of the piece, I find Vallee makes some interesting points. In moving huge sectors of our lives online, what do we get versus what we give up? And more importantly, how are the companies mining the data using it?

Vallee asks, "What does it mean to live in a world where the behavior of an entire population can be accurately mapped from minute to minute? A world where Procter & Gamble knows exactly what kind of toothpaste I use (and when I can be expected to run out) but also a world where government planners and politicians can subscribe to data flows from data mining experts to engineer finely-tuned programs of mass manipulation? A world where whole new social, political or religious "memes" can be injected into the culture to mold it into new forms?"

Is DATA, then, the next big commodity? Google's profits come from firms that buy up the behavior we as human beings enter into that oh-so-convenient search bar. Same with Amazon, eBay, Facebook, the list is endless. We get the convenience of getting the things we want online, and they get data. And we give it up for free.

A recent BBC article, Personal data could become commodity goes so far to raise the question as to whether or not we should be paid for our personal information. Apparently, "there were companies which wanted to give users control of their data and allow those people willing to give their information away a chance to make money from it," and "Companies will embrace it because it becomes more of a transaction where the consumer is authorising the use of their information and carrying out a business deal."

A company called Bynamite apparently launched software last year that allows consumers to track which sites are tracking them. Co-founder Ginsu Yoon says that "There should be an economic opportunity on the consumer side. In a few years ... a person's profile of interests could be the basis for micropayments or discounts." He also says, "The problem is that right now so much of this is done in the dark with online companies effectively looking over your shoulder while you are online and have no idea your information is being shared."

What do you think? Do you think you should be paid for the information you input online? Will there ever be a futures market of information and data exhaust -- and how should it be valued? Leave me a comment below. I'm curious to know what you, as tech-savvy seekers of online information think -- from both the business and consumer side.

Sheena Moore

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