In 2010, the World Economic Forum (WEF), launched a project on Rethinking Personal Data. The project brought together experts from business, government, academia and end user privacy and rights groups to examine the challenges and opportunities involved in properly managing the explosive growth of personal data in the digital world. In January of 2011 they published their first report, - Personal Data: the Emergence of a New Asset Class.
The report’s overall point of view is that personal data is a new asset class touching all aspects of society. It is potentially as valuable a resource in the 21st century as heavily traded physical goods like oil have been in the past hundred years. The report recommends the development of a principled, collaborative and balanced personal data ecosystem that is capable of evolving and improving over time.
This past May, the WEF released a second report, Rethinking Personal Data: Strengthening Trust. I found it to be an excellent overview on the subject. It observes that throughout history, economic value creation has been linked to the ability to move and trade physical goods. Similarly, “data needs to move to create value. Data sitting alone on a server is like money hidden under a mattress. It is safe and secure, but largely stagnant and underutilized.”
But, personal data lacks the trading rules and policy frameworks that exist for widely traded physical assets. As a result, there is little trust among the key stakeholders, - individuals, governments and the private sector, - which could undermine its long-term potential.