“We’re entering an era in which data can be used to solve all sorts of the most pressing problems, but only if there’s trust in how that data has been handled,” Ms Rometty told me in a phone interview last week. “We see ourselves as stewards of clients’ data. And we don’t need to be regulated to do the right thing. We’ve been doing the right thing for a hundred years.”
The comment was a clear swipe at Google and Facebook, both of which have been fined by national privacy watchdogs for their data collection methods, as well as a reference to new UK and EU regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation, that will make it tougher for companies to process, sell, or allow third-party access to personal data without consumers’ explicit consent. But it was also a new kind of marketing pitch: in a world in which most economic value is going to intellectual property, we are not only going to protect that value, we are going to offer a greater share of profits from it to clients.
How would this work in practice? IBM, which serves mainly other businesses and governments, is now pitching the fact that they won’t keep any proprietary data in their servers for more than a specified contract period, and that the informational wealth garnered from using artificial intelligence to analyse that data would be owned by the clients themselves. For example, if a national health service gave IBM health records, the company could not then monetise information about the fact that certain populations in certain parts of the country have higher than average cancer rates.