Data Activist will.i.am: We Need To Own Our Data As A Human Right And Be Compensated For It

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Written by Dana Sanchez

Tech entrepreneur, activist and musician will.i.am has a vision for the future, and it’s all about economic empowerment. Not just his. Yours and mine too.

It was that vision that helped him five years ago (while having lunch with Salesforce founder Marc Benioff at the World Economic Forum) to peer into the future and predict what people would care about in 2019.


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data activist will.i.am
FILE – In this Nov. 10, 2015 file photo, musician Will.I.Am attends T-Mobile’s Launch of Un-carrier X in Los Angeles. A study shows that 20 of the hottest teen-music heartthrobs have done TV ads or other promotions for products nutritionists consider unhealthy. Will.i.am has participated in ads or campaigns linked with Coca-Cola, Doritos, Dr. Pepper and Pepsi. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

will.i.am’s answer was “idatity”.

“Identity and data are increasingly intertwined,” will said in a guest post in The Economist. “The term I coined that day evokes the need for people to be more aware of how they safeguard and share their information.

will wrote that he believes personal data needs to be regarded as a human right, “just as access to water is a human right. The ability for people to own and control their data should be considered a central human value. The data itself should be treated like property and people should be fairly compensated for it.”

Anyone still thinking of will.i.am as just a hitmaking producer-rapper is out of touch, Brian Hiatt wrote in Rolling Stone. will’s Puls smartwatch wasn’t exactly successful in 2015, but “he’s still taken seriously by venture capitalists, who have reportedly provided more than $100 million in funding to his company, I.am+ — which is working on a personalized artificial-intelligence assistant.”

will has a problem with data monarchs—companies like Facebook and Google that collect, store, mine and sell data.

“While these companies that give away ‘free’ services have grown rich, the data that belongs to their users has at times been compromised, and people’s digital habits sold, often without their full knowledge,” will wrote.

Payment is one way to redress the balance, said will, an avowed lover of technology and app.

What people will care about in five years?

“Actually, I’d say ‘idatity‘ again because i.am my data,” will wrote. “And my AI agent should be my personal data scientist. But in five years, I believe this will be the norm. Tomorrow’s entrepreneurs will create virtuous companies that honour people’s data. They will make use of my data with my consent but I will always own it.”

will.i.am is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global AI Committee and an honorary fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology in Britain.