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Friday Sync-Up: Should we ban data sales to "unfriendly" governments?
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Friday Sync-Up: Should we ban data sales to “unfriendly” governments?

Every Friday, I present a topic or question for our merry band of thinkers, leaders, ...

Every Friday, I present a topic or question for our merry band of thinkers, leaders, and pirates to discuss in an open thread. Here is this week’s conversation starter:

Senator Wyden is urging a ban on the sale of US persons data to “unfriendly” foreign governments.

Question: Is banning the sale of US data to “unfriendly” governments a good idea?

Some Context (from a report I’ve drafted on Chinese threats to US data):

  • 90% of the world’s data was created in the last 24 months;

  • Every minute of every day, 500 hours of new video are uploaded to YouTube, 147K photos are posted to Facebook, 41M messages are shared on WhatsApp, and more than 212M emails are sent;

  • Humans produce 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day (for perspective: 2.5 quintillion pennies, if laid flat, would cover the earth’s surface five times);

  • There are ~4K data brokers worldwide;

  • It’s a $200B industry;

  • According to a 2014 FTC report (the numbers are likely much larger now):

    • One data broker has 300 separate data segments for nearly every US consumer.

    • Another has information on 1.4 billion consumer transactions and over 700 billion aggregated data elements.

    • Another adds 3 billion new records each month to its databases.

  • These data can enable a near-total reconstruction of an individual’s identity, location history, interpersonal relationships and networks, entertainment and purchasing preferences and habits, and even future economic, social, and political outcomes. And all of it is available for sale to anyone willing to cut a check;

  • Obviously, this type of data collection is essential for many of the tools and services US consumers want (and that drive our economy). Throwing up barriers to having this information in the global free market would likely have significant negative economic impacts.;

  • Equally true, this information is very, very valuable. For example, in a previous conversation, Derrick made the excellent point that many of China’s algorithms are Sino-centric and many not be as effective against Western targets. By simply purchasing this data (and they likely already are), however, the CCP could improve their performance against Westerners and gain significant insights into American social, political, and economic trends; and, 

  • Enforcement of a ban would be difficult and would likely require a much broader evolution in our national privacy and data regulation (so, this is no silver bullet)

Klon Kitchen is a managing director at Beacon Global Strategies and a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.