The value of data for the Internet of Things

For artificial intelligence and machine learning, there is a compelling argument that the real enabler of developments, and the key distinguisher between competitive solutions, is the quality of the data upon which algorithms are trained. It could even be said that without data there is no artificial intelligence or machine learning.

How data influences processes and decisions

There are many examples of valuable data in the context of the internet of things, particularly where connected devices underpin artificial intelligence and machine learning. If you can think of a sensor, then you can think of a data set. Sensors talking to each other may transfer and pool data. Enough data, enough good quality data, can be used to influence processes and decisions in a wider system. Take autonomous vehicles, for example, and the individual interconnected devices that will enable an autonomous vehicle solution. Companies will compete to obtain more data taken from sensors on vehicles and near vehicles. This in turn will improve algorithms and machine learning, thus distinguishing a product or service offering. The quality of the data is important too, however. The accuracy, reliability, and variety of data, in addition to the absolute data values themselves, will be important in seeking commercial advantages.

In a world where vehicles are autonomous, and even where the business model for vehicle use is shared ownership or subscription based, product offerings may not compete on variables which are data independent like aesthetics, performance, and traditional mechanical innovations. Instead, market-leading solutions may be the most machine intelligent, a feature that is underpinned by ‘better’ data.

But this is not the only example, and as the world becomes more connected it is easy to see that for the internet of things, where connected devices may be autonomous, data may be the most valuable component of any commercial solution.

Data as an asset

What then if we look at this data as an asset? It has been said that data is the new gold. Gold is an asset and can be bought and sold, thereby realising its value. A common question asked is ‘who owns the data?’ But the better question might be, ‘to whom does the data have value?’ Or ‘can it be sold and licenced?’

Data is not subjected to a single property right, like an innovation covered by a patent. The value in data can be protected only through a fragmented scheme of intellectual property rights and contractual mechanisms. Importantly, in some cases the value of the data may only be fully realised by giving access to that data to third parties. So, whilst it is stored securely and in the control of the data collector, it can be used with the control of the data collector. However, issues arise when the data is to be used or accessed by a third party. Control over the data and its value may be lost. The term data controller is used here purposely, who is the owner of the data is a separate question.

Much like the internet of things itself, the issues are a web of interconnecting strands which may be relevant depending on the nature of the data and business model for using the data. However, just as there is often a distinction between an intellectual property right and the product protected by the intellectual property right, there may be a distinction between the data per se and the value of the data. There are therefore opportunities to realise the value of data, but care may need to be given to ensure, whilst the value is extracted, it is not given away for free or its value eroded.

The regulation of non-personal data

Data used in a commercial and legal context can be considered as either personal or non-personal. Personal data is regulated, and there is hardly a company in the world which has not had to grapple with various aspects of European and global regulation of personal data. The fact that these companies are using personal data shows the value in it. In the internet of things and connected world, often that data will be non-personal data, but its value is independent of the type of data.

But the use of non-personal data, and the value in it, is in a different position to personal data. It is far less regulated, yet its value is undeniable. The regulators are playing catch up with non-personal data and the European Union, for example, is moving forward with initiatives to regulate the use and availability of non-personal data with the “Data Act.” This initiative may limit the possibility freely to realise the value in data in European Union, or at least ensure access to data by users of connected devices.

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