The new gold of the 21st Century

Data drives massive profits for the new corporate titans

It’s certainly not oil, it’s not even water. The new ‘gold’ of the 21st century is data. And a range of corporate giants are using it to drive massive profits.

Yuval Noah Harari, author of the 2016 book ‘Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow’, was right on the mark when he wrote: “One of the most important questions in the world is who owns the data of humankind. Maybe the most important asset of the 21st Century is not land, and it’s not money, it’s really data.”

At the turn of the century, four of the five top companies in the world, based on market cap, were old-style ‘industrial’ entities: GE (manufacturing), Walmart (retail), Exxon (energy) and Citi (financial services).

By 2016 the data titans were firmly in charge. The five global leaders were Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon – all businesses that built their empires by managing data.

Today, a decade later, that trend is even more entrenched, and with some powerful new players. Elon Musk’s Tesla empire may produce vehicles and solar products, but its core competency is driving sales by exploiting the vast flood of data from its ubiquitously connected products.

And Jack Ma’s Alibaba and AliPay businesses are now a global financial services behemoth, based on expert analysis and utilization of the data generated by billions of users.

Critics bemoan the extent to which we give away our data – but the services provided by these companies are so useful, and so individually tailored, based on our data, that most of us willingly participate. Our data is the price we pay for new levels of seamless living.

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

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