Interesting analogy to draw between the spice trade of the Renaissance and Big Data of today!
Your question “who owns it” (i.e. Big Data) is certainly a vexed one. In Europe especially, courts have upheld data protection legislation that gives individuals retain certain rights to ‘their’ data — including the right to have the data removed.
For example, in a 2014 case, a Spanish resident successfully sued Google to have links to newspaper articles about him removed from its search results. The European Court of Justice noted in its judgement that
“[a data subject’s] rights override, as a rule, not only the economic interest of the operator of the search engine but also the interest of the general public in having access to that information upon a search relating to the data subject’s name”
So, in this case at least, Google’s assumed property rights to the data turned out to be fairly weak.
Of course, the question of ownership will vary by jurisdiction. In the United States, regulations involving Big Data seem to be focused less on privacy and more on accuracy, equal opportunity, and fraud prevention.