By Tom Pendergast (Wired),
THE HEADLINES ABOUT the trade wars being touched off by President Trump’s new tariffs may telegraph plenty of bombast and shots fired, but the most consequential war being waged today is a quieter sort of conflict: It’s the new Cold War over data protection. While the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica crisis currently burns as the latest, hottest flare-up in this simmering conflict, tensions may increase even more on May 25, 2018, when the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect.
The Cold War I grew up with pitted Western capitalist democracies, led by the United States, against Communist dictatorships, led by the Soviet Union, in a contest for world domination. Two worldviews competed against each other on a global stage. The contest was ultimately won not on the battlefield, not by armies, but by the sheer productive capacity of the West. Capitalism triumphed by providing TVs and cars and political freedoms to an expanding middle class, while communism foundered on its inability to offer any such prizes. The society that offered the most to its citizens ultimately won the day.
Combatants in the new Cold War are fighting over the currency of the modern age: personal information. The battles are over who controls data. Vying against each other are those societies that believe that individuals have an absolute right to control their personal data—to exercise the same kind of dominion over data that they do over their bodies or their personal property—and those that believe that personal data is a good to be traded on the open market and thus subject to the same market forces at play elsewhere. May the most innovative, efficient company win.