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Personal data, that is.

Because it’s good to give away — but only if you mean it.

And it’s bad to take it, even it seems to be there for the taking.

I bring this up because a quarter million pages (so far) on the Web say “data is the new oil.”

That’s because a massive personal data extraction industry has grown up around the simple fact that our data is there for the taking. But that’s no excuse for the extractors to frack our lives and take what they want, just because it’s there, and they can.

But, because they can, and restrictions against it have been close to non-existent so far, we’re at a stage of wanton data extraction that looks kind of like the oil industry did in 1920 or so:

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This is a business we need to reform, replace, or both.

What we need much more are new industries that grow around who and what we are as individual human beings — and as a society that values what makes us human.

Pause to think about what love is, and how it works. How we give it freely, and how worthwhile it is when others accept it. How it’s better to earn it than to demand it. How it grows when it’s given. How we grow when we give it as well.

And how taking it without asking is simply wrong.

Oil made sense as a metaphor when data was so easy to take, and the resistance wasn’t there.

But now the resistance is there. Almost two billion people block ads online, and most of those ads are aimed by extracted personal data. Laws like the GDPR have appeared, with heavy fines for taking personal data without clear permission.

So it’s time for a new metaphor that expresses what our personal data really is to us, and how much more it is worth to everybody else if we keep, give and accept it on the model of love.

You’re welcome.

Originally published at doc.blogs.harvard.edu on September 28, 2017.

Written by

Author of The Intention Economy, co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, Fellow of CITS at UCSB, alumnus Fellow of the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard.

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