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Byte of Life: Our personal data circulates in an underground economy

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(Alyssa Shao | Daily Trojan) In 2017, The Economist published an article claiming that oil, the world’s most valuable resource, had been replaced with data. This sentiment has been echoed and overstated everywhere. At universities and corporations, “data analyst” is emerging as the new hip career. Harvard Business Review even declared being a data scientist as the “sexiest job of the 21st century.” However, with so many wanting to be analysts and scientists, we completely overlook one question: Who collects all these datasets?

Obtaining “big data” isn’t as simple as sending a Google Form to your classmates — it’s collected and processed from the moment you connect to your Wi-Fi and sent every time you click a link, log in to a website or interact with a company. Most of the time, we have no choice but to agree to a company’s rules, such as mandatorily accepting cookies to use their website properly. Granted, most of this data isn’t directly harmful, as much of it remains unstructured and unprocessed. However, problems begin when companies start to treat data as valuable raw materials that can be leaked, traded and weaponized.

There are two main ways our data is exchanged — through corporations […]

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