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Pay people for data

The raw materials driving today’s digital economy are data, leading many, including industrial tycoon Mukesh Ambani, to say that data is the new oil. Nowadays, wealth is increasingly built upon information. Companies that aggregate and analyse information the fastest accumulate unprecedented power and wealth. For example, social media companies gather and analyse huge amounts of data related to customer behaviour and preferences. They use this to build features to ensure that customers constantly browse, and to show customers advertisements that they are most likely to click on. This information translates into huge revenues and profits.

An overlooked fact is that ordinary people are crucial for companies to create disruptive technologies that earn them billions. Algorithms rely on statistics to make decisions, and it is the people who feed companies the data.

Despite this vast amount of data fuelling massive value and wealth creation, the new digital economy is increasingly shaping up to be like the feudal or robber-baron economies of the past, where wealth was concentrated among a very select few. The general public, who predominantly contribute the raw data, get a negligible portion of the pie.

The digital economy without doubt is creating jobs that were previously inconceivable. Who could have imagined the role of a search engine optimisation expert before Google, or a video streamer before YouTube? These new jobs will likely not be as abundant as the current jobs being eroded due to advancements in artificial intelligence and automation. This means that the jobs to share the massive wealth created in the digital era are steadily decreasing.

At present, seven high-technology firms find themselves among the list of the top eight most valuable companies in the world, with a cumulative market capitalisation of almost $5 trillion (almost 2.5 times India’s GDP). However, they directly employ fewer than 11 lakh people among them.

These days, the primary discourse during any election in the world is on how to create conditions for a more equitable distribution of wealth. For this to happen, we need to conceptualise an approach that can remunerate people for their contributions in this digital economy. As the primary step, we have to educate our population about the value of the data they generate. Secondary measures, including legislative policies, must be taken to ensure that people can extract their justified pay for their digital activities. Technologies such as blockchain can facilitate nano-payments, proportional to the degree of contribution, and value creation to each individual in the digital space. The right redistributive policies can turn this world of technology-driven inequality into one that is truly participatory and egalitarian.

Anil K. Antony is the Convener of INC-Kerala Digital Media Cell and Vice President of Navoothan Foundation; Ankur Prasad is the Head of Product for Amazon Moments and investor in and adviser to early stage blockchain start-ups


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Printable version | Dec 4, 2021 2:04:21 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/pay-people-for-data/article26305491.ece

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