Changing the Conversation: Why Thinking “Data is the New Oil” May Not Be Such a Good Thing

By Jedidiah Bracy, CIPP/US, CIPP/E

Information is power and Big Data is fueling our economy, prompting many to consider data the new oil. Clearly the value of data—particularly personal data—has never been as dynamic, exciting and potentially dangerous as it is now.

But is thinking of data as the new oil really such a good thing?

For data artist Jer Thorpe, the answer is no.

Thorpe, who challenged a slew of top privacy pros, academics and policy makers last month at our Navigate think-tank extravaganza, wants to change the conversation around data.

Yes, Big Data brings us incredible economic opportunities, as does oil—but oil in the bigger context has a lot of negative connotations: pollution, foreign wars, global warming. So yes, there’s money to be made, but maybe we should be thinking of data in a different context.  

Thorpe has created the Office for Creative Research. The goal is to change the way we think about and experience data. This multidisciplinary research group, as its website notes, “is exploring new modes of engagement with data, through unique practices that borrow from both the arts and sciences. OCR clients are research partners, helping to pose, refine and ultimately solve difficult problems with data.”

During Navigate, Thorpe presented several examples of modeling data in really interesting ways. In one example, he modeled how a specific content asset from The New York Times was first tweeted and interacted with online. It shows, he said, “how we can take something that’s invisible and make it into an architectural form that we can think about and understand.”

To challenge Navigate attendees, Thorpe also introduced several other data artists who presented some fascinating and creative things they’re doing with data—how our data informs how we’re seen by others, how we interact with others and what the future may hold for privacy.

All of these presentations can be viewed on our Youtube site. In the coming weeks, we’ll be discussing more thought-provoking issues that these artists, academics and experts rolled out. In the meantime, here’s Thorpe’s opening presentation.

Let the new conversation begin.

More from Jedidiah Bracy

About the Author

As editor of the Privacy Perspectives, Jedidiah Bracy moderates the many views, angles and, well, perspectives that inform information privacy and all its adjacent professions.

In addition to editing the Privacy Perspectives, Bracy facilitates the vetting, writing, editing and curation for the Daily Dashboard, the IAPP Canada Dashboard Digest, the IAPP Europe Data Protection Digest and the IAPP ANZ Dashboard Digest. He writes feature articles for The Privacy Advisor on information privacy law, data protection and the privacy profession.

When not mulling over the current state of information privacy in the digital age, Bracy enjoys watching international soccer, listening to his music library and tasting a finely wrought craft beer. You can follow him @jedbracy

See all posts by Jedidiah Bracy


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