“Data is the new oil” is one of those deceptively simple mantras for the modern world. Whether in The New York Times, The Economist, or WIRED, the wildcatting nature of oil exploration, plus the extractive exploitation of a trapped asset, seems like an apt metaphor for the boom in monetized data.
Antonio García Martínez (@antoniogm) is an Ideas contributor for WIRED. Previously he worked on Facebook’s early monetization team, where he headed its targeting efforts. His 2016 memoir, Chaos Monkeys, was a New York Times best seller and NPR Best Book of the Year.
The metaphor has even assumed political implications. Newly installed California governor Gavin Newsom recently proposed an ambitious “data dividend” plan, whereby companies like Facebook or Google would pay their users a fraction of the revenue derived from the users’ data. Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes laid out a similar idea in a Guardian op-ed, and compared it to the Alaskan Permanent Fund, which doles out annual payments to Alaskans based on the state’s petroleum revenue. As in Alaska, the average Google or Facebook user is conceived as standing on a vast substratum of personal data whose extraction they’re entitled to profit from.