[Doctorow-L] Column: Data is the new toxic waste

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Wed Mar 18 19:13:00 EDT 2020

In a new article for Kaspersky, I argue that data was never “the new
oil” – instead, it was always the new toxic waste: “pluripotent,
immortal – and impossible to contain.”


Data breaches are inevitable (any data you collect will probably leak;
any data you retain will definitely leak) and cumulative (your company’s
data breach can be combined with each subsequent attack to revictimize
your customers). Identity thieves benefit enormously from cheap storage,
and they collect, store and recombine every scrap of leaked data.
Merging multiple data sets allows for reidentification of “anonymized”
data, and it’s impossible to predict which sets will leak in the future.

These nondeterministic harms have so far protected data-collectors from
liability, but that can’t last. Toxic waste also has nondeterministic
harms (we never know which bit of effluent will kill which person), but
we still punish firms that leak it.

Waiting until the laws change to purge your data is a bad bet – by then,
it may be too late. All the data your company collects and retains
represents an unquantifiable, potentially unlimited source of downstream

What’s more, you probably aren’t doing anything useful with it. The
companies that make the most grandiose claims about data analytics are
either selling analytics or data (or both). These claims are sales
literature, not peer-reviewed citations to empirical research.

Data is cheap to collect and store – if you don’t have to pay for the
chaos it sows when it leaks. And some day, we will make data-hoarders pay.

-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: signature.asc
Type: application/pgp-signature
Size: 195 bytes
Desc: OpenPGP digital signature
URL: <http://mail.flarn.com/pipermail/doctorow-l/attachments/20200318/dc9563a4/attachment.sig>

More information about the Doctorow-L mailing list