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A Fair Exchange

A man barters chickens for something of fair economic value

data (n.): 1640s, classical plural of datum, from Latin datum “(thing) given,” neuter past participle of dare “to give” (from PIE root *do- “to give”). Meaning “transmittable and storable computer information” first recorded 1946. Data processing is from 1954.

Since the hammer was first swung, the first basket wove, considerations of compensation and fairness likely began to emerge. Through time, advocates, philosophers and people of all stripes fought to have the fruits of individual labor secured. It is conventionally accepted that one ought to be compensated for products and services that extend out of their being, and that the individual should retain say and direction as to how that is done.

But what about the data we produce?

“What we seek is some kind of compensation for what we put up with.”
Haruki Murakami

Data creation is a far-more implicit and passive process than the conventional exercising of labor, service skills, or intellectual ability. Nevertheless the implications of data production, gathering, and utilization are vast. A decade ago, the notion of data replacing oil as “ the world’s most valuable resource” may have come as a surprise, but as a resource worth billions, data serves as the fuel for a powerful economy-wide engine of analytics, optimization, consumer-targeting, trend creation, and high-fidelity trading, consequently resulting in mass profits and various tertiary benefits. Should, then, it not be objectively determined through a market and personal choice, what is fair compensation for providing the ‘raw material’ that allows the entire data mechanism to run?

Perhaps not. After all, technology users acquiesce their data willy-nilly, releasing it to the ether, thus enabling innovative and capable firms to utilize it accordingly. “They are not using it anyway”, it may be said, and if they were concerned in securing their data, users would not sign off on those complex terms of use. Or — as the above Economist article points out — handing over our data is perhaps the price we pay for being able to utilize services such as Google, Facebook, et cetera. Fair enough, a free lunch never tasted quite right, but a more clear image is emerging, as people ask, what are we putting up with?

No options, no consent

Consent in the void of alternatives is not consent but an ultimatum. As it stands technology does not empower users to gain control of their data or digital personas. In the very least, options and the capacity for choice should be available to technology users (data producers), so they can make decisions based on their preferences. They should be able to determine how this trade of data for services (or money, or crypto-currencies, or whatever else) is executed. A two sided and mutually co-operative economic interaction will better ensure that a fair amount of compensation is being received by users for what they are providing by way of their data, rather than having such an exchange arbitrarily determined through lack of choice.

But this data apathy and potential inequity, born largely from a lack of feasible, easily-integrated, and efficient data management options is shifting. The people are wising up, and innovators and technological entrepreneurs are heeding the call.

Restoring Reciprocity

In sync with it’s original definition, when it comes to data, technology users have been very giving. Beyond the implications of privacy, most have never taken the time to consider the economic implications of the data they create as a byproduct of i) having a differentiated taste profile and decision-making mechanism and ii) by engaging with technology and networks to satisfy their needs and wants.

Due to the lack of options enabling one to secure and manage personal data, rights and permissions over this information have been tenuous, provider-focused and relatively ad hoc. As such, determining ownership and individual rights and responsibilities over data remains at an infantile stage, but the motive of profit and notions of fair compensation is sure to speed up the conversation, and is already spurring on solutions designed to address the fractured relationship between originator and data.

The time is now arriving, where technology users are compensated for their digital production. People will reunite and reintegrate with their orphaned data. They will possess, control and manage their very own data tree, choosing what data they store, secure or sell-off to a third party, having full control as to who gets access to what data and why. Data will morph from being a technological waste product, to an opportunity for earning supplemental personal income, thus restoring the inherent right to benefit and profit from that which they have created.

Much good is being done in this sector by companies within the blockchain and privacy/security sectors, but there still have a long way to go. Technology users largely remain fenced in by parameters that no longer serve the general interest, by conditions that flagrantly ignore data rights and fair compensation for a hard day’s work of browsing and making decisions within the web. Let’s redefine:

data (n.): a sought-after commodity, generated by user action within a technological environment. Used by companies and service providers in a secure and responsible manner to provide an enhanced and tailored web and information experience. Originators of data are fairly compensated for their contribution to the aggregate flow, all the while having their identity and right to privacy protected through a range of options and tailored solutions designed to improve their internet experience, while facilitating an economically fair relationship between their data and third-party data consumers.

Let’s transition from an unconscious, implicit trust in monopolies and oligopolies to a trustless environment, where we rely on innovative solutions, providing options that will allow not only for the reconciliation of our relationship with data, but the development of frameworks that solve problems and serve human need.