What is the Data Economy? And Why Should We Care?

Forget the private eye sitting in his car across the street with his binoculars trained on a single subject. Surveillance has moved en masse and mainstream. The ‘binoculars’ of the Internet are trained on You. Me. Us. 24/7. 

This surveillance is driving the ‘digital revolution’ and its engine room, the ‘data economy’, in which digital data is constantly being produced, distributed and consumed for profit. 

The data economy relies on a business model known as surveillance capitalism, in which companies claim consumer data as their asset and make money from it. As this author says, “Surveillance capitalism describes a market-driven process where the commodity for sale is your personal data, and the capture and production of this data relies on mass surveillance of the internet.”

Professor Emerita Shoshana Zuboff of Harvard Business School first coined the term surveillance capitalism in her book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. Zuboff defines it as “the unilateral claiming of private human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data. These data are then computed and packaged as prediction products and sold into behavioural futures markets — business customers with a commercial interest in knowing what we will do now, soon, and later.”

Unsurprisingly, Facebook and Google are the biggest players in surveillance capitalism. Zuboff says:

“This economic logic was first invented at Google in the context of online targeted ads where the “clickthrough rate” was the first globally successful prediction product, and targeted ad markets were the first markets to specialise in human futures. During the first years of discovery and invention from 2000 to 2004, Google’s revenues increased by 3,590%. Right from the start it was understood that the only way to protect these revenues was to hide the operations that produce them, keeping “users” in the dark with practices designed to be undetectable and indecipherable.

Surveillance capitalism migrated to Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon – and became the default option in most of the tech sector. It now advances across the economy from insurance, to retail, finance, health, education and more, including every “smart” product and “personalised” service.”

Data brokers oil the wheels of surveillance capitalism too. Data broking is a US $200 billion, unregulated industry of legitimate third party businesses that don’t hold the data like Facebook and Google do, but rather collect (buy) it from various sources (such as stores with loyalty card programs), correlate and package it, and on-sell it to companies for as little as $79 so they can tailor advertising to those from whom the data was taken in the first place.

What makes data broking so insidious is it’s near impossible to control. Consumers’ intimate details are harvested, manipulated, even misrepresented, and sold on a list. While opting out or partially opting out is sometimes an option, completely removing one’s personal data from all commercial collections is impossible. A user might win the war against one source (after months of trying), but there are over 4,000 data broking agencies worldwide. Picture a never-ending game of Whack-A-Mole. 

Check out these infographics from WebFX:

Source: WebFX
Source: WebFX

So why should we care? 

The desire to escape the invasive surveillance of the data economy is a core driver of the global push for greater consumer privacy and control of personally identifiable information. (The other driver is criminal data abuse.) 

Every one of the 4.57 billion Internet users on the planet is a pawn in the data economy and, for the most part, we’re living through it in a state of what’s been called ‘informed bewilderment’. So what’s our defense?

The best strategy is not to expose any personal data on the Internet in the first place, but in an increasingly data-driven world, that’s impossible—or is it?

Anonyome Labs is creating a world in which people have exclusive control and freedom over their private information. We’re changing the privacy and security paradigm—and resolving the greatest challenges business and consumers face in the data economy. There’s never been a better time.

Through our products, MySudo consumer app and Sudo Platform business privacy toolkit, we help people reclaim their power over their personal data with next generation privacy and security solutions, and we help businesses deliver the privacy-first products their customers are crying out for. 

The data economy has its benefits, but they’re often coming at the expense of consumer privacy and safety. Consumers are calling for change, and it’s important that businesses listen and consumers use the best available tools to proactively protect their personal information in the meantime. 

Want more? Read:

What Are Consumers Saying About Privacy and Safety?

Where Will Privacy Be In 10 Years?

The California Privacy Act and Why You Must Still Keep Control of Your Personal Data

What Constitutes Personally Identifiable Information or PII?