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Oil proved to be most important commodity in the 20th century which practically changed the
world, the way it worked. Numerous battles and wars were fought over it and the nations strove
hard to secure continuous oil supply for their booming economies. Data seems to taking place of
oil in 21st century with respect to importance, its use in economies of the nations and in the
ever increasing digital space.

How and why data is considered oil of the 21st century?

Benefits of using Data-

Data and Artificial Intelligence-

Over the past five years, the new thing has been the use of data in Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI
has been around as an idea for 40 years but the availability of data, changed its contours.

The breakthrough was deep learning, which uses layers of neural networks to automate
problem-solving. Because of data, software and machines have become more intelligent. Data
combined with AI creates scale and speed.

For eg Netflix in USA, when Netflix began, it was not in the content business but in the
distribution business. In 2013, it started creating its own content. It stores and analyzes data,
who is watching what, when, how, and what they like. Today, it has over 100 million customers

Business importance-

Companies like Apple, Facebook are essentially using data for commerce to understand
customers’ preferences and selling them just what they wanted. Between 2000 and 2010, data
was used largely for monetization gains.

For eg In the US, Google and Facebook have a 71% share of total digital advertising spending. In
2015-16, they captured 89% of all incremental digital advertising.

China’s mobile payments are a staggering $5.5 trillion. These payments are dominated by two
companies—Alipay, part of the Alibaba Group, and Tencent Holdings’ WeChat. These two
companies own over 90% of the payments market in China.
Huge future potential-

Out of 5.5 billion people in the world over the age of 14, 2.5 billion have a smartphone. By 2020,
every person will have four personal digital devices. The Internet of Things will soon bring 50
billion devices online. Smart companies have realized this.

Apple, Google, GE, Siemens, Amazon, Tencent, Baidu—all are moving from products and pipes to
platforms. These platforms enable products that solve problems but they also capture and own
data produced in the interaction.

They also use the data produced to become better at what they do. That, in turn, attracts more
customers, generating more data.

However, like oil, monopolistic tendencies over Data can be harmful for people and consumers

Data is its own means. It is an unlimited non-rivalrous resource. Yet, it isn’t shared freely. What
began as a differentiator is now the model itself. Platforms that accumulate user data disrupt
industries, wield disproportionate influence and create silos. This leads to data domination.

There are multiple risks from data domination: violation of privacy, data colonization, and a
winner-takes-all scenario that stifles innovation and competition. This isn’t just a technology
challenge but also a policy one.

Thus Data is being compared with the oil with regard to its importance in the daily lives of the
people and their rights connected to it.

Way forward-

Data has to be owned by the user and used only with her consent. Individuals should be in
control of their own data. It should be used to empower the individual, not the state, or the

Apart from a strong data protection law, we need an efficient consent process. This could take
the form of data consent, Application Programming Interfaces (APIs ) that allow consent
collection, storage, and audits. And at any time, users have the right to pull out their data. They
can choose what they want to be part of, and what they don’t.

This prevents data colonization, yet enables and empowers AI. It tilts the privacy debate in
favour of the user. And it creates real user choice at every level. Data is empowering in the hands
of people. Inverting it allows freedom and choice. This leads data democracy.