IT is past, welcome to the Data Technology Age

The first technology revolution was the Information Age. Computers started in getting invented in the 1940s and hit the broader public in the late 80s. It took 50 years to drive IT to it’s high. But where could Information Technology move next?
With so many terms hitting us lately related to the internet and its branches (web2.0, web3.0, IoT, Big Data, Cloud), there must be more. But what is it?

Information Technology is about – I have it, you don’t have it.”, and “Data Technology is about – I have it and I share it with you[1] , said Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba [2] in a speech he gave in South Korea in front of young entrepreneurs a while ago, but still, this doesn’t give us much to think about on what the Data Technology Age will bring in terms of opportunities for new – or old companies established in the field of IT.

So first things first, what does “Information – or Digital age stand for”, and Google answers this with “The digital age, also called the information age, is defined as the time period starting in the 1970s with the introduction of the personal computer with subsequent technology introduced providing the ability to transfer information freely and quickly”.

Do we really need a new “age of”, in this case “Data Technology”?

Surprisingly I would answer this question, purely intuitive, with yes, we need a new Technology age. Let me explain why:
While we start adopting and liking terms like the “Internet of Things”, or as others call it the “Internet of Everything”, we have already started in entering the Age of Data. The IoT is about data, but rather describes the process of interconnecting devices to form a bigger and easily controllable “Everything”. “Everything” in terms of “everything that matters to each individual”.  The IoT tries to describe the form and ways to interconnect, so it should be digested as a technical approach to interconnectivity by using the Internet as a transfer protocol, and standardize the way this connectivity is achieved. What it clearly does not, is to describe what this data is used for, who can access this data, nor does it reference any ethics related to the data gathered.
So if we imply that the “Data Age” is a reference to gather all those other terms related to the exchange of personal data in a top level term, then we have already left the “Digital Age” and have entered the “Data Technology Age” – and this a while ago, without even knowingly having created legislation to the big What, Who, When and Where of Data.

Ian Brown [3] , a Professor of Information Security and Privacy at Oxford University’s Oxford Internet Institute in his book “Regulating Point[4] points out that “Internet use has become ubiquitous in the past two decades, but governments, legislators, and their regulatory agencies have struggled to keep up with the rapidly changing Internet technologies and uses”.
Ian, when writing the book back in 2013 was clearly thinking ahead, as what he describes in his use cases and scenarios is a good fit for the ending era of Information Technology but even a better fit for the arriving era of Data Technology.

What exactly happens when we switch pages into a new technological age? 

Remember terms such like “Stone Age” or “Iron Age”? They fundamentally changed the way how humankind interacts with each other, and how this interaction is enforced, by means of violence - or the damage which could be achieved by using the materials relevant to each epoch. Depending on how we translate these changes in age into the usefulness it has brought with it, we need to manage any change happening to data we give away daily, and the ways we interact with services over the Internet.
And here the “Data Technology Age” comes into play: It changes the way we interact, share, exchange and manage personal data. When saying “how we manage”, this is only part of the overall process, because when this information is transferred over the Internet, most likely it will be stored with some cloud storage provider somewhere in the world. And what has clearly not been defined in this new age (besides approaches being made of building US/EU legislation (GDPA) which touches only the iceberg of Data or potential data misuse), is the greater understanding of what this “Information Giveaway” means to each individuals’ life and how this information is being processed – and this being said – who processes this information and for which reasons.
Until now, the “multistakeholderization” of Internet governance, in which user groups argue for representation in the closed business-government dialogue, seeking to bring in both, rights-based and technologically expert perspectives, are not enough anymore. It is a dialogue restricted to businesses and governments, a very good representation for the Information Age – but this form of closed dialogue will not work for the Data Technology Age.

What exactly is the Data Technology Age?

The Data Technology age by means of definition is the “Aggregation and exchange of data, which establishes an exact profile of the individual who contributes to the Data being made available”.

So this would mean that Social Media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn – heavily living of personal information made available voluntarily by the user already belong into the regulatory scope of the “Data Technology”! But this is again just the tip of the iceberg. Facebook can also aggregate tracking information on users, by tracking smart devices which are increasingly in use by users. This kind of information, which is purely stored to be used on a user’s profile, when used in combination with smart appliances like “Smart Watches” can give an incredible insight in humans’ life.
You know who I am, you know my friends, you know where I am 24/7, you know my heartbeat, movement pattern, when I am at work, when going to the gym.

Now this being said, the Data technology age is about data deriving from users from all kind of devices, voluntarily being made available. One of the base principles however – to fit the terminology – would require that this data is being made accessible to everyone who wishes access to it.

The Regulatory requirements of “Data Technology”

Let’s think of a scenario to understand the risks involved when making available increasing amounts of personal or personalized data to the public:
My new Jawbone Wrist watch is a great device. It collects my individual movement, counts the steps I do, my heartbeat. It connects to my Smart Phone, which knows at all given times where I am (either by GPS or triangulation of the antenna used to connect to the network). Obviously Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn Apps are installed, we couldn’t do without them, right?
So what happens is that these Apps are linked to a unique device ID, so at any given point of time, when services wish to connect or exchange data they just need to look up the device ID, and immediately everything that is being said on social media, or even my health profile links together – and immediately “Big Brother” rises from the ashes.
My health insurance provider is not interested in what I say or whom I connect to on social media, but, be sure they’d love to know my health condition to apply personalized pricing, tailor made for me. Do I really want to let them know that due to my 16 hour days I barely do 5000 steps a day, from which 2000 are within the office and around 3000 are when walking my dogs?
Well, you’d be surprised that my risk of stroke and potential heart attack has increased by 300%. If they knew, they would double my monthly fees – be sure.

This brings us to what regulatory needs arise from the exchange of Data. Privacy Acts, Data Transfer Legislations, all this sounds perfect, but it doesn’t answer one tiny integral part. Mainly legislations look at single service providers, their rights to process data and how this data is transferred between continents. Nowhere there is even a glimpse on what can be shared by providers with other services, or who can request access to already stored data. In other words, it would be a snap for Jawbone (smart watch) to acquire my profile data from Facebook and combine and reconstruct my life – step by step.

Opportunities during the rise of the “Data Technology” age

For businesses and individuals alike, the risks, opportunities and challenges are multifaceted. The exchange and proper use of data may help the world in becoming a better place worth living in for us – and our kids. Collecting information should always happen for the good of human kind, and in no way used to penalize individuals due to the misuse of data at hand.
We will see a completely new form of business rise. These businesses will collect information and due to the statistical evaluation help establish personalized approaches for each individual. Think of a coffee machine that could fix your coffee based on your health, think of a car that evaluates your condition and gets you to hospital when you feel sick, or think of your GP knowing the likelihood of you having a problem in the near future. So some uses of Data can be for the good of the individual, and some will be not.
Opportunities will also arise for the entrepreneurs, implementers, fore thinkers and legislators of this new age, which will set the path and campaign for the proper use of our personal data. After all – we wouldn’t want to end up being controlled by technology like George Orwell wrote in his book “1984”. By the way, Orwell’s book was published in 1949 – then Science Fiction to his readers.

Resume

We have already seen the beginning of the Data Technology age without realizing it is happening.
It is happening, and it is happening to each single one of us. This article was written to help the reader to get the big picture about Data and where the trends are moving. Being aware of Data use and potential misuse should be an individualized approach to each person, and not lastly a fundamental right. 

References:

     
  1. Jack Mas’ speech in South Korea
  2. Jack Ma, Alibaba
  3. Ian Brown Profile
  4. Regulating Point Book