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China set to overtake US in race for data as information increasingly drives economies


China will generate more data than the United States by 2025 as it pushes into new technologies such as the so-called Internet of Things, according to a new report.

Data created and replicated in China will outpace the global average by 3 percent annually, a study from the International Data Corporation and data storage firm Seagate found. The report said in 2018, China generated about 7.6 zettabytes of data and that number will grow to 48.6ZB in 2025. A zettabyte is approximately around a trillion gigabytes, which is a commonly used measure today.

Meanwhile, the U.S. generated about 6.9ZB of data last year. That number is predicted to be about 30.6ZB in 2025.

This all matters because information is increasingly seen as the currency upon which the global economy relies.

“Data is at the heart of this digital world and we are increasingly becoming an information economy,” IDC analysts wrote in the report, adding that it is crucial for services built using next-generation technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and the Internet of Things.

Fintech in China

Companies are using data to reach new markets, improve customer service and, in some cases, create new revenue streams by selling that information, the report said. “Data may not be on a balance sheet, but data is a company’s most valuable intangible asset, which can create a competitive edge in digital transformation.”

The analysts pointed to the example of how Chinese tech giants Tencent and Alibaba took on traditional banks in the country by introducing their widely-used WeChat Pay and Alipay digital payment services. Using the massive amount of user data these companies have collected over the years, they can create personalized financial services tailored to the specific behaviors and preferences of their customers, the IDC analysts said.

By 2025, the total amount of new data created is predicted to increase to 175ZB from 33ZB in 2018, the report said. Major growth drivers are set to be data collected from entertainment platforms, video surveillance footage, internet-connected devices, productivity tools, and metadata, which is vital for analytics and contextualizing the information.

Data being ‘weaponized’

While the availability of more data on their customers is something businesses can cheer about, others have raised concerns over how that information is being used. Data collected from social media and other free services are often used by advertisers to target certain groups of people.

“Our personal information is being weaponized against us,” Ayden FĂ©rdeline, a tech policy fellow at the Mozilla Foundation, told CNBC.

He said if an advertiser identifies someone who has a cat and targets them through advertisements for cat food, the harm there is minimal. But, when an advertiser targets someone who has an insecurity about their appearance by showing them ads for cosmetic surgery or weight-loss pills not approved by medical boards, that’s when it becomes dangerous.

“With micro-targeting, there are now personal information being used to narrowly target us for ads. Consumer advocates simply cannot proactively respond to deceitful campaigns or unfair market abuses if they can’t see it themselves,” FĂ©rdeline said.

The implications extend beyond just advertisements selling personal products. Last year, Facebook received criticism after it was revealed that a London-based political consultancy, Cambridge Analytica, improperly harvested as many as 87 million Facebook profiles for data.

Even more concerning is the fact that large tech companies are collecting data, which have been used to build models of users that can predict how they are going to behave or respond to certain ads and other messaging.


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