Two big ideas collide. Somewhere, the alarm clock rings.

Two recent papers and an article in The Economist have my brain spinning. Big ideas. Potential accelerants into this emerging world of voice-based commerce, which Business Insider Intelligence just forecast will grow in the U.S. to $40 billion in five years. (Roughly the same size as Best Buy.)

Big Idea Number One: Consumer Ownership of Data.

Not a new idea. But one given impetus and urgency in recent months by this important paper:  "Should We Treat Data as Labor?  Moving Beyond ‘Free'". It is a must-read.

It centers on this observation:  In today’s digital economy, data is treated as capital, and not as labor.

The difference:  Data as capital treats data as a natural by-product of participation and consumption. As such, it’s there to be claimed by the likes of Amazon or Facebook.

There’s an implied social contract:  Free services in return for prevalent surveillance.

The user gets no-charge access to the selfies from the bachelorette weekend in Nashville. The provider gets ever-widening access to her wants, needs, and dreams.

One side will create and capture more value. One gets less.

Data as labor? It treats data as a possession of the user. You own yours. I own mine.

Each with a value that accrues to our respective benefit.

The Economist earlier this month took the data-as-labor concept and explored what this might mean ( It’s another must-read.

What if people really controlled their data? What if the tech giants were required to pay for access?


It would demand more attention to data distribution than most folks are currently willing to give. And it would demand some big market shifts. A repeal, perhaps, of the behaviors that have enabled the last 15 years of e-commerce and social media.

Highly unlikely, you might say. However, there’s greater attention these days to the value of personal data.

Note, as The Economist article did, the under-handed acquisition of the data of some 87 million Facebook users by Cambridge Analytica, the political consultancy. Plenty of eye-brows raised worldwide.

Note the rippling impact of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Note the increased value of data in this age of artificial intelligence. Today’s machine learning can give us new and unique insights as to shopper behavior—but only with mountains of human-generated data.

And note the possibility—one envisioned by Glen Weyl of Microsoft Research and Princeton, and fellow visionaries—of “data-labor unions,” organizations that could serve as gatekeepers of people’s data. Such organizations might negotiate data-distribution rates on behalf of their members, and ensure data quality.

In commerce, a data-labor union could serve as a powerful buying block, with unprecedented negotiating power.

According to The Economist, Facebook made $2.27 in profit per user in Q1 2018. As of January 2018, Facebook had roughly 214 million users in the United States, and 1.8 billion users worldwide.


It takes only a half-step to reach the second big idea.

Start with data ownership. Mix in the growing capabilities of voice-centric AI platforms, such as Alexa* or Google Home*. Sprinkle liberally with business process re-thinking.

Bake for no more than three to five years.

Meet your digital twin.

The thought-provoking Harvard Business Review article from Canada’s Niraj Dawar is found here:

Your digital twin—the AI-based, ever-smarter representation of your tastes, interests, and daily needs—will survey not just a few purchasing options, but the entire known world of purchasing options.

Routine purchases will flow like water and electricity to your household. Little thought required. And your favorite brands (both retailer and product) will interact and negotiate not with you, but with your digital twin.

Envision a mega-bazaar working at millisecond speed. With you, the data owner and director of your digital twin, the beneficiary.

Living large in data land.

Science fiction?   I don’t think so.

For the retail and consumer products industries, I think this is like the alarm clock you hear buzzing from the room next door.

Something’s stirring.  Something’s awake. Are you?

Let me know what you think.


The Reading List

Ibarra, Goff, Hernandez, Lanier, and Weyl, Should We Treat Data as Labor? Moving Beyond Free,” American Economic Association,, 2018.

Data workers of the world, unite, The Economist, July 7th, 2018, pp. 11-12 in “the World If” annual supplement.

Dawar, Marketing in the Age of Alexa, Harvard Business Review, May-June 2018.

Posner and Weyl, Radical Markets: Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for a Just Society, Princeton, 2018.

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Jon Stine

About Jon Stine

Global Director Retail Sales at Intel. Jon Stine leads Intel’s global sales and strategy for the retail, hospitality, and consumer goods industry sectors. His CV includes leadership of North American retail consulting practice for Cisco Systems, and a prior stint at Intel, where he founded the company’s sales and marketing focus on the retail industry. His perspective on technology’s value in the industry has been shaped by advisory and project engagements in the United States, across the European Union, and in India, Australia, and the People’s Republic of China, and from 15 years of executive sales and marketing experience in the U.S. apparel industry, working with the nation’s leading department and specialty stores. At Intel, his current areas of research and engagement include the future of the store in this new digital age; how and where retailers turn data into competitive advantage; the role of technology within the new cross-channel shopper journey, and, the critical business and IT capabilities that industry success will demand going forward.