What if data is becoming the new oil?

Last week I had a brainstorm with a great group of thinkers from the investment world on ESG related investment practices and ideas. The focus in ESG is very often on the ‘E’ of environmental, and not so much on the ‘S’ for social and ‘G’ for governance. In one of the debates I had, we zoomed in on the social aspect of sustainable investing and wondered whether we could foresee a future in which organizations that are data driven will experience a similar societal backlash as the oil & gas industry has experienced? What if data is becoming the new oil?

Oil & Gas

For full transparency: I work with a couple of oil & gas and energy companies on the energy transition. They find themselves in quite a difficult situation, because whatever they do, everything is perceived with an evil eye. I don’t want to argue whether or not they are doing the right or wrong things for our future, but the fact is, that they’ve lost a great deal of societal support for their business. Centuries ago, this was not the case. With the introduction of the internal combustion engine the demand for oil grew rapidly and our world (literally) ran on oil. Now, with a lot of environmental concerns the perception has dramatically shifted and it is difficult to foresee whether or not this will ever return to a more positive perception of the industry.

Data as the new oil

It’s a catch phrase that you probably have heard a lot in recent years:¬†data is the new oil. In other words: our world is more and more driving on data as the new resource for everything we do. However, slowly but surely citizens and governments are posing questions around the power companies like Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Google etc have (as a result of the data they have collected and have access to). Who does that data really belong to? What does it do to our privacy? Will we allow companies to become more powerful than countries? It’s questions like these that might show us a glimpse of a future that is not so positively perceived anymore for data companies. What if indeed, they are becoming the new oil? What might be the negative social implications these companies have on our daily lives? And what will that mean for the sustainability of their and our future? Will their access to data be shut off?

It might not be too easy to turn off oil in our society as so much is indeed powered by it. But how easy is it to turn off the data pipeline? Do we want to have more control over it for the sake of our future? New questions, that need new answers because they¬†determine the possibilities in your future. That is what I believe at least…