The Cost and Risk of Regulations That Make Information ‘Own-able’

Sam Lessin:

The internet is forcing us to engage with a far broader definition of the economy than in the past. Instead of thinking of the economy primarily in terms of physical goods and services, the internet is putting front and center a fuller picture of the economy—including other forms of value and trade, such as information and social, moral and even sexual capital.

I believe you can trace many of the political and social challenges we face today back to our expanding awareness of—and ability to measure—the size of the broader economy. In particular, debates about who “owns” data, the right to be forgotten and privacy regulations can easily be seen effectively as a debate about how to value information and formally assign its ownership. So too can a lot of the consternation about the scale and size of internet companies that have large amounts of this previously under-appreciated data-as-asset.

The Takeaway
The information economy is putting increasing pressure on the physical economy, creating lots of debates about ownership of data and privacy. But it would be dangerous to write regulations for the information economy that are based in the physical economy.

More broadly, it is easy to view things like Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign narrative about the idea of “soft corruption” in Washington—where policy makers favor the rich over everyone else—as really a discussion about how power operates across different forms of capital. A lot of the unrest among people on the left is based on the idea that the deck is stacked against the working class. The reason that they feel that way has a lot to do with uneasiness about how these alternative unregulated economies function.