The value of data
Prince Michael of Liechtenstein
Information – data – is supposed to be the critical “raw material” for the economy, business and society heading into the future. We must therefore conclude that data have value.
We know from experience that if goods and services are not scarce or do not have a price, they will be spoiled or misused. Damaging misallocations occur especially when such goods or services are under the control of the state, appropriated by the public or subsidized.
Personal data are now collected by many people and organizations, for various reasons.
Governments, public agencies and supranational institutions are requiring an ever-increasing amount of “transparency” from individuals and companies, frequently overstepping individuals’ right to privacy, a human right. Unfortunately, governments frequently distrust their own people – a phenomenon becoming more and more common in the West’s so-called “liberal democracies.”
The result is a strange state of affairs: Individuals are increasingly forced to be fully accountable and transparent to the authorities. This is a complete reversal of the basic principle that governments must be accountable to the citizen, who also has the right to privacy and protection against arbitrary intrusion from the government.
The hypocritical justification given for this illicit but forced collection of data is crime prevention. Of course, the practice does not prevent crime, but the information does help in prosecuting criminals. It is doubtful, however, that such prosecutions justify government surveillance, intrusion into citizens’ everyday lives and putting the general population under a blanket of suspicion.
The crucial problem in the case of government data collection is that citizens are compelled to comply, even when it infringes on their right to privacy. When companies collect data, the practice is less dubious, since individuals are not forced to provide information.
It is true that when a company has a dominant market position, like Google, it is difficult to avoid making use of its services. This allows the company to extract data from users. But in contrast to authorities’ demands for information, providing personal data to companies is not mandatory.