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Data: the modern gold rush

Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has intervened in the Cambridge Analytica data row. Picture: Canadian Press/PA Images.
Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has intervened in the Cambridge Analytica data row. Picture: Canadian Press/PA Images.

Data is the world’s greatest new commodity.

You may think the days of the Klondike rush are long since past, but in this digital age it is simply less obvious than before.

Data is the new gold and there are many millions of digitally enabled prospectors desperate to get their hands on it.

Wittingly or unwittingly, everyone is involved in producing data every day.

When you pop into the coffee shop for your morning mocha you may not think much about it. But if your phone has its geolocation on, your physical whereabouts are being digitally logged.

Making a contactless payment for that drink leaves a digital fingerprint.

Ask for your loyalty points to be added to your store card and, once again, data is being created.

In isolation, it may seem innocuous.

But every time there is a data hit, each time you update your social media or browse for goods or products online there is more colour added to your personal digital profile.

That picture of you and your habits, your likes and dislikes, your hobbies, your taste in food and your favourite brands becomes ever more vivid. To a company, that is commercial gold dust.

If you know a potential customer is predisposed to a certain product or service before you even have contact with them, the chances of making a successful sale are significantly enhanced.

It is data that is ushering out the broad-brush approach to sales and driving the new dawn of targeted, individualised selling – the type of approach that, for example, really could undo the bricks and mortar stores on our high streets.

If you think I am overplaying the significance of big data, just look at the current furore over UK firm Cambridge Analytica’s alleged role in the election of Donald Trump in the US.

UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has intervened and wants to take a look at Cambridge’s servers and databases.

As the story broke, $37 billion was wiped off the value of social media giant Facebook as it faced allegations of failing to properly inform users that their profile information – just another term for data – may have been obtained and held by Cambridge.

I make no comment on what may or may not have occurred in that instance.

But the harvesting, handling and use of data is becoming ever more central in how we live, work and how the wider world we exist in is shaped.

And that brings me to GDPR, or the less snappy General Data Protection Regulation.

In just 64 days, new and complex pan-EU data laws come into force.

They are designed to reset the wheel and put the power of personal data back in the hands of the individual it belongs to.

Quite rightly, companies could face huge fines if they do not take steps to be GDPR-compliant in the first instance, and do not adhere to the new regulatory standards once they are in place.

But what GDPR won’t do is stop the gold rush and the manipulation of data for commercial purpose.

It is simply too vast and too valuable a tool for that to happen.

ghuband@thecourier.co.uk

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