Video: Ranga Yogeswhar on Big Data

"Data in the network", is data really the new currency? Are major corporations collecting gold by collecting data from each of us, and by drawing conclusions from the data and selling the data?


Mr. Yogeshwar, how do you see this? Is data of private individuals the gold of the Internet?

Ranga Yogeshwar: In some areas, this is certainly the case. In point of fact, we really should be talking not only about data but also about streams of data, and about the linking of data. That is something many people have not really realized. In the next few years, we are going to be seeing an explosion of the data quantities involved. Why? Because more and more sensors are coming into play. Things are being recorded everywhere we look – in all kinds of processes, both large and small. Just think about how much data your cell phone is already gathering, almost on a by-product basis!

And the next thing to consider is that the data provides information – information about the behavior of users, about their health, about their social contacts, etc. In other words, our inner lives are being turned inside out, so to speak. I think that in our culture each of us greatly values his or her privacy. What I am a little concerned about is that at the moment only very few organizations are actually collecting this data – it's almost a monopoly situation. Just think of Google, for example. The amount of data Google has about us is breathtaking – about our shopping behavior, our travel patterns, our friends, etc., but not only about those things. That of course calls for respect, and it calls for a level of care and vigilance which, unfortunately, is not always there – but should be, because this data is being used commercially for things that are not within my control. So of course scenarios are taking place that I do not like. A simple example: at some point, the transparency of data can have an impact on insurance prices. What is more, it can lead to sudden discrimination against people, when the data indicates in advance, "watch out, Joe gets sick more often than Jane does." In short, there are problematic areas I do not like.

On the other hand, the data is being concentrated in the hands of just a very few. And these systems have a tendency to reinforce themselves. Perhaps the logic behind the Internet has something to do with the fact that in this digital world – in my view – the laws of market economy are actually being suspended. We see this in that the very thing that market economies depend on – competition – does not exist in the digital world. The principle of "the winner takes it all" applies; at some point there is only one search engine, only one social network and only one platform for buying music.

This monopolization is dangerous, because it confers special power on certain countries and certain companies. In light of the extreme gradient – the extreme inequality – involved, because the U.S. of course possesses many of these relevant infrastructures, then I think, as a committed European, that we need to discuss these things very openly and frankly. We simply cannot allow a single nation to have control over the entire infrastructure for a modern development.

Anyone who doubts the relevance of this should consider the following: If 100 years ago the U.S. had had a monopoly on all electric power production and distribution, then at some point we would have said that's not right – we can't allow a single country to be controlling everybody else. I certainly don't have anything against Americans; I'm simply saying that we have to see the relevant principle at this point and think about how we can change things so that the network will be open and transparent and so that, on the other hand, we won't eliminate the opportunities available in these data. For the data is indeed gold. In short, not only is the data something lucrative, it also offers an opportunity for each one of us.

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