Les stats, c’est moi

A new way to think about data is needed

“Data”, runs a common refrain, “is the new oil.” Like the sticky black stuff that comes out of the ground, all those 1s and 0s are of little use until they are processed into something more valuable. That something is you.

Seven of the world’s ten most valuable companies by market capitalisation are technology firms. Excluding Apple, which makes money by selling pricey gadgets, and Microsoft, which charges businesses for its software and services, all are built on a foundation of tying data to human beings. Google and Facebook want to find out as much as it is possible to know about their users’ interests, activities, friends and family. Amazon has a detailed history of consumer behaviour. Tencent and Alibaba are the digital wallets for hundreds of millions of Chinese; both know enough about consumers to provide widely used credit scores.

Where tech companies have blazed a trail, others have followed. Consumer brands in every industry collect data on their customers to improve design and advertise products and…