Paying for Privacy
    Category: Column By : James Kallman Read : 937 Date : Tuesday, April 16, 2013 - 14:17:55

    “Civilization works only if those who enjoy its benefits are also prepared to pay their share of the costs.”

    I can't claim credit for the quote, which came from a recent feature on tax evasion in the Economist, but it is timely considering that I was just working on preparing my annual tax filing. This quote can be tied to another gem I came across, that each day we are bombarded with as much data as our ancestors just five centuries ago received in their whole lifetime.

    How much of this is actually necessary for us to lead productive lives may be debatable, but there can be no doubt that data is big business nowadays. The question to be asked, though, is: to whom does this data actually belong and do those who enjoy its benefits pay their share of the costs? Take social media, for instance. Nothing has so rapidly empowered the right of the individual to speak out and enjoy free speech. Yet this does not always come without cost, as for some the use of social media may expose them to persecution in their own land, as not all of the world's citizens enjoy the same freedom of expression as in the U.S. and other nations.

    Even in more enlightened countries, however, free speech comes at the cost of loss of privacy, such as the buzz of my handphone interrupting a relaxing evening with my family. So from that side of things, I'm certainly paying for the convenience it affords me.Nevertheless, we are increasingly living in an Orwellian world as far as personal privacy is concerned—ironically the U.K. is the world leader in CCTV cameras per capita—with people quite willing to divulge personal data online. Moreover, in addition to voluntary submission of personal data, detailed profiles are built up as websites stealthily trace our tracks across the web.

    With all that data out there, it's hardly surprising that it has been investors rather than governments who have been the first to recognize the tremendous value of these assets. The valuation of the likes of Facebook, Google or Amazon, for instance, are hard to defend unless one takes into account these intangible but very real data assets that don't appear in books.