World Economic Forum and Personal Data as an Asset Class

At this last week’s Personal Data Deep Dive in Palo Alto, I had a chance to talk with some of the folks working with the World Economic Forum about their recent report Personal Data: The Emergence of a New Asset Class.

While I remain concerned about how the institutions of globalization might co-opt personal data to further their own ends, it almost certainly isn’t as bad as recently discussed on the Project VRM mailing list.

My realization: of course WEF would see data as an asset class. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t even make it onto their radar. Complaining about the WEF seeing personal data as an asset is a bit like complaining that Mozart sees everything as music.  Sure, it might be a limited framework and might be abused if applied too broadly, but it’s perhaps the most real way for the WEF to think about how personal data will lead to changes in the global economy.

It is worth understanding that the paper is an early step in acculturating Fortune 1000 CEOs to a new reality about user-driven services, volunteered personal information, and the entire VRM gestalt. It’s a baby step.

But it is a step.

Indeed, the folks at the workshop were well aware of the kind of reaction they are bound to get from communities like VRM. Bottom up groups tends to distrust top-down institutions.  Fair enough. But think about it from the perspective of the folks inside the WEF that are fighting the good fight, not just because it’s moral or politic, but because it is perhaps the only viable route beyond the information overload facing our entire information infrastructure.  Those folks need to light the minds of global business leaders without igniting fear that the house is on fire.

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4 Responses to World Economic Forum and Personal Data as an Asset Class

  1. NZN says:


    I think you are right to point out the balanced perspective. The mature and wise path is on the road of mutual respect for all points of view.

    However, lets not confuse the reality of our situation simply because people feel that the pace of change is still manageable… the house is on fire.

    The house is most definitely on fire.

    Anyone who does not navigate this digital moment with that in mind at all points of engagement better be ready for the resulting burns likely in their future… if not already in their present.

    • Joe says:

      NZN, to each his own level of alarm. I for one don’t think it’s time to grab the pets and pictures and run for your life. In fact, quite the contrary. I think there is room for the forward thinking company to reinvent its IT architecture and reap HUGE benefits. There are those… and you might be one of them… who think its time to arm the peasants with pitchforks and storm the Bastille. However, we would do well to avoid a repeat of the Reign of Terror as we emerge from our current age of Digital Feudalism. Alarmist views aren’t going to help. Fearmongering and scare tactics, IMO, are just about the most inappropriate tools for motivating anyone.

      Yes. The world is changing. Yes, it is going to change with or without you. And yes, your current way of doing business is likely to disappear. But the opportunity isn’t to run around fearing the fire, it is to figure out how to contribute to and benefit from the coming architecture.

  2. Doug says:

    On page 10 of the report it states: Individuals can have greater control over their personal data, digital identity and online privacy, and they would be better compensated for providing others with access to their personal data”

    There are some disrupting companies out there getting started that are looking to change the way user data is incentivized.Look at and

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