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Data as oil, infrastructure or asset? Three metaphors of data as economic value

Jan Michael Nolin (Swedish school of Library and Information Science, University of Borås, Borås, Sweden)

Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society

ISSN: 1477-996X

Article publication date: 6 November 2019

Issue publication date: 3 March 2020

Abstract

Purpose

Principled discussions on the economic value of data are frequently pursued through metaphors. This study aims to explore three influential metaphors for talking about the economic value of data: data are the new oil, data as infrastructure and data as an asset.

Design/methodology/approach

With the help of conceptual metaphor theory, various meanings surrounding the three metaphors are explored. Meanings clarified or hidden through various metaphors are identified. Specific emphasis is placed on the economic value of ownership of data.

Findings

In discussions on data as economic resource, the three different metaphors are used for separate purposes. The most used metaphor, data are the new oil, communicates that ownership of data could lead to great wealth. However, with data as infrastructure data have no intrinsic value. Therefore, profits generated from data resources belong to those processing the data, not those owning it. The data as an asset metaphor can be used to convince organizational leadership that they own data of great value.

Originality/value

This is the first scholarly investigation of metaphors communicating economic value of data. More studies in this area appear urgent, given the power of such metaphors, as well as the increasing importance of data in economics.

Keywords

Citation

Nolin, J.M. (2020), "Data as oil, infrastructure or asset? Three metaphors of data as economic value", Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, Vol. 18 No. 1, pp. 28-43. https://doi.org/10.1108/JICES-04-2019-0044

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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