Has Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice-president, global affairs and communications, stated the obvious? Data isn’t oil, he reportedly said last week. This wouldn’t have made news had the analogy of data and oil not been so popular in India. The big difference, Clegg pointed out, was that while oil is finite, data isn’t. Hoarding it within a country’s borders, he argued, was not a good idea. Instead of localizing consumer data, he would rather have unrestricted cross-border flows of it in the general interest of everyone.

The original formulation of data as “the new oil", however, was not about finitude. When data maven Clive Humby first made that assertion, he simply meant that data is to the digital era what oil was to the industrial age. These days, it refers to the market power at the disposal of a dominant player, one that’s in a position to control its flow to its advantage. Another similarity is that data is useless if left unrefined. It only delivers value once it’s mined and analysed for specific purposes. Whether this necessarily implies databases on Indians need to reside within India, though, is unclear. If it has to slip into the wrong hands, it could happen anywhere.