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Data to the People

India’s Inclusive Internet

At an Aadhaar registration center in New Delhi, January 2018.

Data, the techno-optimists are fond of saying, is the new oil. It is the fuel of the modern economy, a valuable commodity that can be bought and sold, and a strategic resource for nations. Indeed, digital assets now matter far more than physical ones. As the writer Tom Goodwin has pointed out, “Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.” As with oil in another era, the market today has generously rewarded those who have best captured data. In 2006, three of the world’s six most valuable public firms were oil companies, and just one was a technology company. By 2016, only one oil company remained in the top six. The rest were tech giants. 

But the oil

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