What Is Data – King? Commodity? Or A currency?

Kings rule. They make their own rule. They cannot be monetised.

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Data Is King

Sometime around 2010, the internet started catching up in India with the smartphone boom in the country. And, pundits began foretelling a bright future for internet in India. They predicted – “Data will be the King” in this newly identified Digital Jungle.

In 2018, when this article is written, at least one prediction has come true. We are in a Digital Jungle, and every internet company is fighting to build its own country and attacking others’ territories.

But Is Data Really The King? Or A Commodity?

Kings rule. They make their own rule. They cannot be monetised.

Economist, in its May 6, 2017 issue, mentioned data as a resource (or commodity) and identified it as the new oil. Mukesh Ambani, the billionaire oil tycoon, said during a speech at India Mobile Congress,

“data is the new oil and India does not need to import it. We have it in super-abundance and we have to ensure every Indian has access to it.”

The way we are getting concerned with our data privacy and security, its no longer qualifies to be a king. It will continue to live like a commodity, with possibilities of unfair trading. Question is, can we consider data as a commodity yet?

Data – A Currency?

There have been a lot of conversations happened around the fairness of data sharing in the app ecosystem. We need to understand the implications as well. 

There is no doubt how the app ecosystem is making our jobs easy and taking care of every possible need. Be it communication, travel, entertainment, education, healthcare … there is a solution to every task that can concern an individual. And, most of these services come without spending a single penny.

As the age-old proverb says, “ If you contribute nothing, you will get nothing”, you end up contributing your own data against the services you enjoy from the app ecosystem. And, you can never ask for a refund – once the data is gone, it stays with your beloved app. 

What’s The Harm?

We keep getting spam calls every day and it no longer bothers us. It’s a matter of your name, email id and phone number. 

But, what if your government ID or financial details get compromised. You will be worried. Probably, that’s why the government and Reserve Bank of India showed some concerns about Whatsapp Business.

A story by FactorDaily points out,

“India’s central bank and the ministry for information technology have raised concerns over Whatsapp’s sharing of payments data with its parent company Facebook, potentially delaying a wider launch of the service currently available to a small set of users.”

It also highlighted that,

“Whatsapp shares data with its partner bank ICICI Bank and parent company Facebook came to light when it updated its privacy policy two months ago. The company said that it uses Facebook’s infrastructure when payments are done.”

Even, Paytm has its legacy attached to a Chinese e-commerce giant, Alibaba in building some of the integrations and extensions. In a story by The Economic Times, it said Alibaba’s digital wallet Alipay has a technology sharing partnership with Paytm. The combined entity of Alibaba and its subsidiary Ant Financial hold 40% stake in One97 Communications, having invested about $680 million in the company.

In another story, The Economic Times highlighted a dozen of Alibaba employees camped at Paytm’s Noida office to oversee the integration of Alibaba-owned digital payment platform Alipay with Paytm’s e-commerce site.

Users, Not Data – The Key To The Treasury

Neha Dharia, Founder at Warp Speed Reads believes users still have the edge over the app economy. She said,

“Such payment platforms need to prove that their services are secure and the onus is on them to get the users on their side.”

“I don’t think any of them share data with their investors, but in certain cases, some bit of it are required to be shared with the holding company,” she further added.

Though such platforms try to be transparent with their data sharing policies, in some cases it gets lost in the fine print. 

While it is the app economy who needs to keep their users in confidence, there is no doubt that users still have the upper hand on the app landscape and hold the key to a gold mine hidden somewhere in the virtual world. Until then, user data continues to be a currency.

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