The Economist argues (what else?) that the centuries-old dominance of oil as the most valuable resource commodity may be coming to an end.

Most of us use social media and other things on the Internet, and the Economist points out that the data collected by the big 5 (Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft) has helped them become the most valuable listed corporations on earth. This territory was once the domain of big oil.

The Economist’s rallying cry:    Who ya gonna call?  Trustbusters!!

But there is cause for concern. Internet companies’ control of data gives them enormous power. Old ways of thinking about competition, devised in the era of oil, look outdated in what has come to be called the “data economy” Briefing). A new approach is needed. . . .

. . .  What has changed? Smartphones and the internet have made data abundant, ubiquitous and far more valuable. Whether you are going for a run, watching TV or even just sitting in traffic, virtually every activity creates a digital trace — more raw material for the data distilleries. As devices from watches to cars connect to the internet, the volume is increasing: some estimate that a self-driving car will generate 100 gigabytes per second. Meanwhile, artificial-intelligence (AI) techniques such as machine learning extract more value from data. Algorithms can predict when a customer is ready to buy, a jet-engine needs servicing or a person is at risk of a disease. Industrial giants such as GE and Siemens now sell themselves as data firms.

Here’s another look, from John Cheney-Lippold at Quartz.  It’s US-centric, but in the data age, this doesn’t matter much. The writer draws a distinction between your physical identity and your algorithmic identity. And discusses how various actors use your algorithmic one (NSA and Google are prominent).

Because algorithms draw from our data, not our lived experience, it largely doesn’t matter if we’re incorrectly identified. (And as much as it sometimes may seem, Google is not invested in explicitly maintaining the patriarchy.) Instead, Google wants to provide advertisers with a consumer base of users who are seen to be profitably man-ish. Similarly, the NSA really doesn’t care if a user is citizen or foreigner, as algorithmic citizenship itself is only a legal caveat that protects them from constitutional overstepping.

But it still raises the question: What would the real world look like if users were identified based only on their algorithmic self?

This is already happening to some extent. Google’s gender and age audience analytics determine which users are targeted with content and advertisements, as well as how websites interpret who is visiting their site. For example, if your data suggests you’re algorithmically wealthy, you might be shown higher prices for hotels or flights on a site like, because your data suggests you can pay. Or, like the case of a Wisconsin man this week, you might be denied parole because you’ve been identified as an algorithmic reoffender.

Of course, the knowledge gathered from big data is not always used wisely.