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.