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If Data Is the New Oil, Are Tech Companies Robbing Us Blind?

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Digital Trends: Data is the new oil, or so the saying goes. So why are we giving it away for nothing more than ostensibly free email, better movie recommendations, and more accurate search results? It’s an important question to ask in a world where the accumulation and scraping of data is worth billions of dollars — and even a money-losing company with enough data about its users can be worth well into the eight-figure region. The essential bargain that’s driven by today’s tech giants is the purest form of cognitive capitalism: users feed in their brains — whether this means solving a CAPTCHA to train AI systems or clicking links on Google to help it learn which websites are more important than others. In exchange for this, we get access to ostensibly “free” services, while simultaneously helping to train new technologies which may one day put large numbers of us out of business.

In an age in which concepts like universal basic income are increasingly widely discussed, one of the most intriguing solutions is one first put forward by virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier. In his book Who Owns the Future?, Lanier suggests that users should receive a micropayment every time their data is used to earn a company money. For example, consider the user who signs up to an online dating service. Here, the user provides data that the dating company uses to match them with a potential data. This matching process is, itself, based on algorithms honed by the data coming from previous users. The data resulting from the new user will further perfect the algorithms for later users of the service. In the case that your data somehow matches someone else successfully in a relationship, Lanier says you would be entitled to a micropayment.


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