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The dangers of our ‘new data economy,’ and how to avoid them

Roger McNamee was an early investor in Facebook and still holds a stake in the social media giant--but he’s also become a vocal critic of its practices, especially around how it handles user data. McNamee offers his humble opinion on why as consumers, we need to stop being passive and take control of how we share our personal information.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A top Facebook executive in charge of all their products announced today he is leaving the social media giant.

    It is the highest-level departure in years, and comes amidst mounting criticism of how the company handles users' data.

    Tonight, we hear from Roger McNamee. He was an early investor in Facebook, still holds a stake in it, but is now a vocal critic.

    He offers his Humble Opinion on how we need to stop being passive and decide how of — our personal information we want to share.

  • Roger McNamee:

    Data is replacing oil as the most valuable commodity in our economy.

    Unlike oil, where ownership is tied to the property under which it resides, corporations acquire highly personal data in the course of a transaction and assert ownership forever. Instead of asking permission, corporations take what they want and challenge us to object.

    Thanks to the proliferation of smart devices and low-cost networks, the value of data is rising exponentially, while the cost of collecting it remains relatively low.

    This has encouraged a range of surveillance schemes by Internet platforms and vendors of smart devices, as well as more aggressive marketing of data by brokers, cellular carriers, credit card processors and the like.

    Consumers feed the machine because of the convenience it provides. But we, the people, have little say in this new data economy. We are merely the subject, and, increasingly, the victims of it.

    There are few rules in this country when it comes to the gathering or use of data. Important questions need to be asked. Why, for example, is it legal to sell or trade data about our credit card purchases, our personal health, geolocation, or Internet activity?

    Why is it legal for smart devices to listen in on us in our bedrooms and offices? Why is it legal to collect any data at all about minors? Why do data companies generally bear no liability when they take or use our data without permission?

    There are many legitimate uses of data, and many benefits to the consumer, like improved search results and relevant ads. But in today's Wild West of data, the potential for harm is great.

    For example, it's not hard to imagine sites that track mouse movement will be able to discern symptoms of neurological conditions, like Parkinson's disease, before the user is even aware of them.

    Today, there is no requirement that the user be notified, but the site is free to sell that information to the highest bidder, perhaps an insurance company, which might raise rates or terminate coverage.

    We are at an inflection point. Data can be used to manipulate and control us. Is that what we want?

    Technology companies must acknowledge their power and responsibilities. Government must enforce a fairer balance between the interests of business and consumers. And consumers must recognize that convenience has a far greater cost than is advertised.

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