The head of payment processing firm Mastercard has told an audience in Saudi Arabia that data could be as effective as oil as a means of generating wealth.
Ajay Banga, president and CEO of MasterCard, was speaking at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, on a panel debating how business and society is coping with an explosion of digital information.
"I believe that data is the new oil. I am saying it in this country because I believe that the prosperity that oil brought in the last 50 years, data will bring in the next 50, 100 years if you use it the right way," Banga said.
He added that data had the additional advantage of not being a finite resource.
Banga told the audience that Mastercard was using data to inform its clients how they can improve top-line business.
"I use it for everything from Boots trying to figure out where to relocate its pharmacies, or for McDonald's trying to figure out if they should have all-day breakfasts in their menu," he said.
Banga said he considered data a public good, and to believe it only a commercial tool was wrong.
He said Mastercard had worked with a company called Deep Macro to help understand how after Hurricane Harvey struck Houston, Texas, in August, satellite imagery and mobile phone movement could identify the areas worst hit.
"You can help direct first responders and aid and methodology of recovery to the right destination," said the CEO.
Banga cautioned that the challenge of harvesting and manipulating big data was to manage the ethics of knowing so much about consumers. He said new regulation was likely needed.
He said he believed that when it came to online activity, consumers preferred convenience over security.