Five years ago at WEF, Will.i.am predicted that in 2019 people would care a lot about data and their identity. Photo: Reuters

CAPE TOWN – Five years ago at the World Economic Forum (WEF), Will.i.am predicted that in 2019 people would care a lot about data and their identity. 

To express his prediction he coined a word “idatity”. His prediction has proven to be correct. This year at WEF, Will.i.am has again predicted that in the next five years data and identity would be key. 

Writing for The Economist magazine, Will.i.am, who is not only a musician but a tech entrepreneur, has indicated that companies of the future will have more respect for people's data.

He lambasted current tech companies that were abusing user data and called them “data monarchs”.

He wrote that currently there was no data freedom when the options of who to sign up with were limited. 

The data monarchs raked in billions and all that users got was a “free” account bursting with advertising and lame “sponsored content”. 

He felt that this arrangement felt lopsided, benefiting the data monarchs more than it benefited individuals and communities. He predicted that such companies would not survive.

He outlined that companies that would survive and remain relevant were companies that would inform their users about usage of their data. They would also be companies that found better uses for user data and in the process added value for consumers. 

He pointed out that currently, gadgets might count user steps but they were not seeing the big picture: what the user ate and how the user felt. 

According to Will.i.am new services, gadgets built from the point of view of the consumer would benefit users by sharing and interconnecting the user's own data, rather than selling it on. 

He believed that when more trust was established, the user's personal “agent” or “assistant” should merge relevant things together that were currently just disconnected data points.

He challenged data monarchs and the next generation of leaders to put their energies into data and AI that serve humanity first, instead of designing platforms bent on controlling humanity with money as the primary goal.

As African business and government leaders are coming back from the WEF this year, it is important that they take points highlighted by Will.i.am into account.

The time is now to implement insights and ideas gathered at WEF. Part of this process will have to include creating a body that will protect the data of the African continent. Technology business leaders will have to begin a process of building businesses that respects peoples data. 

Apps and technologies by local technology start-ups would have to find ways of using data to add value to people's live and not abuse it. 

Any tech companies that are abusing data of the African continent should begin a process of correcting this practice.

Consumers, on the other hand, should take a stand and call for ownership of their own data. This process will be hard, but it is necessary.

Wesley Diphoko is the editor-in-chief of The Infonomist. You can follow him on Twitter via: @WesleyDiphoko. The views expressed here are his.

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