Data Feudalism

Are we technological serfs?

In the Middle Ages, the nobility had a lot of privileges but very few responsibilities, especially towards their serfs. If they wanted to change crops, the serfs had to plant them. If they wanted to go to war, the serfs had to take shelter—they couldn’t just leave. The serfs weren’t slaves, but they were tied to the land. In exchange, the serfs got security, so raiders wouldn’t make off with all the food just after the harvest.

In the tech world today, we pledge allegiance to our technological Lords—Apple, Google, Microsoft—giving them permission to use our data and hoping they keep our credit card numbers safe. They do maintain some kind of order—looking out for virus-infected apps, or protecting us from other data dangers.

But they exact a price. They control the social space around their products; it’s difficult to have an email account not linked to the cloud, it’s hard to get your resume out if you’re not Linked In. And they reserve the right to change the rules of the game, updating operating systems, installing security patches, even rebooting our machines.

Companies like Facebook and Google insist our data is theirs, to do with what they will. Maybe it has been. But data, like land, can revert to its original owners. Is it time for a data jubilee?

Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA

Chief Investment Officer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *