Time and again, we have read and learned about how people vie for information. Everyone wants to know everything. Even media powerhouses want to know more so that they can assimilate that into news to be fed to the world. The race is to be the first to know.
Omniscience, as a virtue, is lucrative indeed, but nowadays, everyone wants to be God. Even atheists.
In TV series, characters are shown to possess enormous (eidetic) memory that they use to obtain their goal. Case in point: Mike Ross from Suits. Once this guy reads anything, it remains imprinted in his mind forever. He can then bring that out when he has to.
In real life, media companies are accused and convicted of turning to crime to obtain information. Case in point: News International phone hacking scandal.
The online world has not been spared either. Digital companies have been frequently accused of using unethical and immoral means to obtain more information about their users. Case in point: Google’s privacy concerns and Facebook’s manipulation experiment on its users.
When I wrote about the power that the media in Britain has been accused of holding, I was astonished at my realisation that the battle was not for market share or profitability or some business strategy. These are merely the outcomes; the battle is to obtain data.
In today’s infinitely connected world, the one with the most data is often the most powerful, and also, as a result, the most profitable. Need evidence? Google it. Before you do that, however, consider Google itself as an organisation.
Google is one of the largest companies in the world with massive amounts of data, extending well into petabytes. What do you think is Google’s primary objective?
You’re getting the drift, aren’t you?
Google survives on data; it needs data from you, me, others, everyone… It needs data so that it can build relationships and form patterns that can be extracted from this data. It needs information about users so that it can “mine” it to discover patterns among individuals and can form an individual’s profile. This practice, known in the technological world as “data mining”, is what differentiates the internet powerhouses from the “also-rans”.
If you’re beginning to judge Google just yet, hang on… It is not Google alone. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Amazon, Flipkart, Alibaba and any large commercial internet-based venture are the same. They need data from their users so that they can grab advertisers who want to push their products on those platforms.
Having data alone doesn’t help, however. It is crucial to obtain insights from data. The power to obtain insights from the data they own and the power to use it are critical success factors. Big Data, the buzzword in the technology world, has gained prominence primarily because the size and complexity of data have increased manifold, making the process of extracting insights from data even more complex yet strategic. Getting the required insights with the right patterns and right observations is the most important business requirement.
To make my point clearer, let me extend Google’s case further. As the popular adage goes – “Google knows you better than your family”. This is true because from the moment you create a Google ID, it knows everything about you. It knows who sends you which mails; it knows where your home and office are and how long it will take you to commute; it knows what time your business flight leaves and when you should leave for the airport; it knows what you watch on the internet and customises your YouTube content accordingly; it knows the books you’ve read, the stocks you follow, the brands you prefer, the cuisines you like, the political beliefs you harbour, the social network you hang out with, the shopping preferences you entertain, the music you like, the favourite places you love, the blogs you follow, the content you write, the people you respect and the work you do… It. Knows. You.
But it is able to obtain revenue from advertisers only because it is able to draw relations with this data. It is able to map your shopping preferences with your favourite brands and designers and is able to send appropriate advertisements your way. It knows which flight you’ve booked and is able to send deals from that flight for future travels. It “mines” the data that is possesses and that is the crux of the matter.
The battle for data is unlikely to subside in the foreseeable future. On the contrary, it is likely to intensify as more people, organisations and entities join the battle.
Everyone wants the power of information because they know information is power.