Data has been referred as the oil, blood vessel or cornerstone of business nowadays. But it is a very unequally distributed asset. Some giants, like Facebook, Google and Amazon, have much more than others. Once upon a time the Rockefeller oil company was split under the antirust act. Should the regulators do the same to data giants, or can the market handle them?
We have many big companies around the world, like telco carriers, retail chains, TV and publishing companies and banks. They have millions of customers in their home and foreign markets. What do they all have in common? They want to utilize customer data in their operations. But suddenly they have found themselves in a situation, where they cannot compete in data with the Internet giants.
Even the biggest publishing companies do not have better or even enough data to compete with Facebook to target advertising. Retail chains cannot compete in data with Amazon. There are also rumors that if these companies were to launch finance services, banks would have a tough time to compete with them. Telcos basically were the source of data, but nowadays Google and Facebook know their customers better.
This situation has especially led the EU to investigate these companies and how they utilize their strong positions in the market. There are, at least, speculations, how Facebook, Google (Alphabet) and Amazon could be split. Amazon’s position, in particular, has created political pressure in the US, when many retailers are in big trouble.
Although we often hear speculation about antitrust laws especially in the US and the EU, it is not so typical to split companies. It is often also said that technology and markets are changing so rapidly today that it is not necessary to split companies anymore. The market will take care of them. A typical example in this context is Microsoft. In the late 1990’s it dominated the PC operating system and software markets. But mobile, Internet and cloud services have changed the market and no one sees Microsoft as dominating the market anymore.
If we think data, is it realistic to think, the market could handle this. There are companies that are data aggregators, collect data from many sources and sell it. In that way companies can buy more data. But probably this is not enough to compete with those that are really in touch (or in the mobiles) of each individual. And privacy requirements have even more impact on data trading than on collecting it.
So, could anyone have more data on you than Facebook, Google or Amazon? There is one party that has even more of your data. But the question is, if this party can really operate on the data market and change the market and competition situation. Or if this party technically can really make it easy to control and use the data?
Who is this party that knows more about you and collects more of your data? Government, bank or your local Internet provider? No, it is you, yourself. You can still know more about yourself than any Internet company and also collect more of your own data. But you would need better tools to do it and to really control your data.
If you can carry your data or purchasing profile to your supermarket, or use your profile to select the best offers for you or to have your financial profile to find loans and wealth management products for you, it would be impossible for Google, Facebook or Amazon to compete with your data. It would be a real disruption for the data market.
Data defines your life and what you can get nowadays. It is a threat that a few gigantic companies in the world control your data. It doesn’t stop with these companies, if governments start to collect all these data points and force companies to hand them over, it can mean many new risks. Data doesn’t only impact your human rights, but it starts to be your human right.
If the solution for data control is not to split some companies and hope to have governments that respect human rights, but to enable people to own and control their own data. Then it would change the whole data business, how centralized Internet has worked and how people can control their own data. The good news is that distributed data models, blockchain and the changing urgency and discussion about privacy are going to enable this soon.
Once the Internet was expected to make the world more open and equal. It has happened in some areas, but data and some services has become very centralized. Now we see signs, that we can go to more distributed models, where human beings can control their own roles and even get a personal AI to help them.