How blockchain could stop data plunder in emerging markets

As studies emerge predicting that between 40% and 60% of western companies revenue growth will likely come from emerging economies over the next ten years, the interest to gather and analyze Big Data coming from these markets also grows. Companies in developed economies are starting to increase their budget spending on data analytics in these markets with the objective of getting a better understanding of this largely unknown consumer psyche.

It is estimated that over 60% of the world’s total data will be coming from EM in the next few years. Yet, at present, only slightly over 10% of the data being generated in these economies is being crunched. The opportunity at hand is huge.

In this context, countries like Kenya, Nigeria, and India are becoming unexpected hubs for startups across all industries. Although the local initiative is on the rise, many of these companies count Westerners among their founders. By developing and deploying leapfrogging technology, some of these companies are engineering solutions based and tailored on the realities of this markets. Nevertheless, others startups are attracting funding, not on the potential of the products/services they provide, but mainly upon their capability to gather data.

As David Floyd points out in a brilliant comparison, data is far from being the new oil, but is rather closer to become the new guano. Guano or bird excrement became the most demanded fertilizer in the world for most of the 19th century. Just like data is now, guano was obtained via extraction, not transaction. The producers (seabirds) were never compensated for their “efforts”. In a perverse similar way, digital users are taken as “no ones” who happen to accidentally produce an immensely valuable resource, rather than owners of an asset they create.

One could say that big data has become the new “dirty” commodity that westerners are looking to plunder. The opportunity, as stated before, is huge, 90% of data in emerging economies is not being crunched. So it is not surprising that these companies, just like modern versions of the East India Company, are starting a new era of colonialism. Digital colonialism.

But just like in any historical period there’s a maverick who tries to change the structure of power, this new type of colonialism might have a very short lifespan with the emergence of the blockchain.

Blockchain can give people in emerging economies control over their personal data and the capacity to leverage it in whatever way they see fit. In the blockchain, data is not being held captive by companies anymore, only to be extracted and crunched. Rather, it is owned by the individual who decides it’s life cycle via a peer-to-peer network system where data can be kept, sold or exchanged privately.

Just like emerging economies leapfrogged into systems like M-PESA via basic mobile technology, blockchain based solutions can take smartphones and make them a channel for data, service and capital exchange. Leapfrogging their way into access to low-cost and scalable self-data management.

The implementation of blockchain in developing economies stills face many challenges, but they are not necessarily greater than those faced in the western world. Cost, energy consumption, systems integration, and general population literacy being the main ones.

Cost and energy consumption are being reduced by the natural evolution of technology and the development of new consensus. When it comes to systems integration, the prospect of having access to an unprecedented pool of immediate data will likely drive speed the innovation in this area. Business won’t need to be convinced of the benefits of implementing the technology, and the costs to do so will be fully recouped.

As for digital literacy in emerging economies, the rise of smartphone ownership and the use of mobile-based systems like the aforementioned M-PESA, guarantees the familiarity of the population with actionable tech applications.

Blockchain by itself is not a savior, it requires local and foreign talent to apply it to these nations’ dynamics. Nevertheless, the potential of this technology to grant control of resources to the ones who produce them in the first place, can, not only stop the digital plunder, but help close the gap between emerging and developed economies.

Just imagine how the world would look today if historical colonial plunder had never happened and these nations had instead retained their most precious resources, including their population.

It’s time to learn from our past and use all the best tools available to prevent history from repeating itself.

Guest post by Cris Torres Fernandez, a Blockchain consultant and women’s health entrepreneur.

This post was originally published on Medium.

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