Forget Star Wars: Data Wars are the next big thing

DataWarsThere’s a new Star Wars in the works, and it’s going to be a game-changer.

No, not that Star Wars. That one already changed the game — did you hear it surpassed Avatar as the #1 North American movie of all time? I’ve seen it twice. No one can beat my Wookiee impression.

But I’m talking about the Cold War-era Star Wars: the Strategic Defense Initiative, started in 1983 with the intent of thwarting nuclear attacks from other countries. In a time fraught with tension and suspicion, the SDI was controversial at best. The idea of nuclear war held high in space, with a system of lasers and mirrors, was frightening, costly, and frankly other-worldly. In fact, the SDI was referred to as “Star Wars” because it was so abstract and science-fiction-like. It just wasn’t something that people were willing to wrap their minds around.

The trouble with abstraction, though, is that the sci-fi future is now. With the trend of going digital comes the reality that we can’t keep much to ourselves anymore; we have to trust our most valuable information to faceless companies somewhere on the other side of our computer screen. And legislation hasn’t caught up to the personal security implications of that yet.

During the Cold War, stories of spies stealing and using private information abounded. Privacy, secrecy, and suspicion were the orders of the day. Now, in the Information Age, privacy has been redefined—or, some might say, obliterated. Every time you interact with a business, the government, the media, or anything online, someone is filing away information about you. Most likely, that someone is also sharing that information with other interested parties, such as advertisers, banks, or the government. The sheer detail of your personal data, down to the innocent minutiae, is shocking (for example, in her data report, author Julia Angwin found her college dorm room number and the dates her mother-in-law had visited). Data companies know a lot about us as consumers, yet consumers know almost nothing about how much of their information is gathered and sold—the data business is largely unregulated, making it difficult to find answers or limit sharing. But people are starting to question the practice.

In an article weighing in on BI trends for next year, Paul Weiskopf (SVP of Corporate Development at Domo) says, “Data is everywhere and essential for businesses to live, grow, and thrive. In 2016, we will see the onset of ‘wars’ over access and usage rights over data, and monopolistic behavior from several companies seeking to restrict the ability of consumers and businesses to manage its free flow.”


It’s tough to be both a business executive and a consumer, because I understand the need for strong business and recognize the role that data analysis and BI play in business development and marketing. At the same time, as a consumer, I completely understand the discomfiture that comes with not being able to keep my personal habits private. If Weiskopf is right, next year may be the year of the Data Wars: companies lobbying for the right to access, use, and sell consumer data, and citizens arguing for the right to transparency and opt-in privacy.

So these are the questions I have for you: At what point do analytics go too far? What effects would total transparency by data companies have on B2C relationships and consumer practices? What is the best possible outcome, all around, of the impending Data Wars?

Wud Pocinwong is the Managing Partner of Launch Consulting. An avid adventure sportsman, he named Launch after a pinnacle kiteboard maneuver.