Back to news

The data ethics of our day and beyond

July 10, 2018    |    Cyber Security    |    Lauren Elkins

Data is now the world’s most valuable resource, surpassing oil.

Trade wars and global conflicts have flared up over oil and gas. According to Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, “between one-quarter and one-half of interstate wars since 1973 have been connected to one or more oil-related causal mechanisms.”

If the world has fought wars and conflicts over oil, do you think they’ll go to battle over data in the same way? What will the resource wars of tomorrow be over? Who will possess the information?

The Belfer Center outlined eight mechanisms in which oil fueled international conflict. Let’s try something interesting. Let’s take their list and relate it to data. Will corporations and governments use, access and store it ethically?

Resource wars:

  • Oil: These conflicts are over which states acquire the commodity by force.
  • Data: Every day in the news, you can find stories of cyber espionage. Clearly, the Russian hacking into the U.S. elections is a trending topic that hasn’t faded in over a year! What other data resource conflicts have we heard about? (We’re not talking about Nigerian prince phishing scams, though!)


  • Oil: Aggressive leaders in big oil-industry countries are insulated from domestic oppression and become fearless about engaging in “risky foreign policy adventurism.”
  • Data: Would you say tactics by countries in regards to cyber spying on other countries and on their own citizens could be data-aggression? Will any countries choose to stand up as examples of ethical data collection on both citizens and foreign entities? (This one is a big deal as it relates to our mission as a VPN provider!)

Externalized civil wars:

  • Oil: “Petrostates” fighting over oil pull in other nation states who want to protect their access to oil.
  • Data: Facebook and Cambridge Analytica certainly bubbled up some personal information privacy backlash recently. Facebook was quick to kick Cambridge Analytica out, though!

Financing insurgencies:

  • Oil: Iran funneling oil money to Hezbollah is an example of this mechanism.
  • Data: Where does the money go for supporting international cyber crime? Can it be tracked through digital currency?

Oil-market domination conflicts:

  • Oil: A well-known example is the Kuwait war in 1991 where the U.S. attacked Iraq to protect its oil access.
  • Data: Would a nation go to war over access to data? Or will they just mess around with each other’s elections? (The trickle down effect on these things sure feels frustrating!)

Clashes over oil transit routes:

  • Oil: Fighting has occurred over shipping lanes and pipelines.
  • Data: If cyber criminals shut down access to data, through DDoS attacks or other malware, would people go to war or simply pay the ransom? For now, we’ve recovered pretty quickly from major attacks, but as more and more cyber security jobs sit unfulfilled without qualified candidates, how well can we keep up the fight?

Oil-related grievances:

  • Oil: Foreign workers in big oil-industry countries aren’t exactly welcomed by the locals, which helps extremist groups (such as al-Qaida) recruit angered locals to their cause.
  • Data: If big companies mess with people’s data and get caught, what will the backlash be? We saw a glimpse of that with the brief #DeleteFacebook movement. However, it eventually lost steam and didn’t make much of an impact. We’re willing to give over a lot of our information for “free” services! (Beware of free VPNs, though. That’s a cost that’s NOT worth it!)

Oil-related obstacles to multilateral cooperation:

  • Oil: The Belfer Center explained this one as “an importer’s attempt to curry favor with a petrostate prevents multilateral cooperation on security issues.”
  • Data: Perhaps the Equifax data breach could be related where they were buffered from the effects of paying for a serious data breach, so they didn’t put top-notch measures in place. Did you put a security freeze on your account after that?

The ethics of data is a big-time debate that will continue and grow as data drives more of the world. If you don’t want your data collected, your only possible option right now is to never use the internet and avoid smartphones. How reasonable is that for anyone?

Better Safe Than Sorry