Open Data Intermediaries and Economic Ownership Rights
Absent in the research literature is a consideration of how data intermediaries may infringe on the ownership rights of the individual actors from whom they ‘extract’ data. At the individual level, data may hold less value and is readily exchanged. However, at the collective or aggregated level, data become more valuable, placing the intermediary in a position to extract additional value from the data without necessarily providing fair compensation to those who provided the data. This work studies actors and data flows in a data ecosystem exploring the effects of open data intermediaries, particularly on the economic ownership rights of those who provide data.
African Minds is an open access, not-for-profit publisher. African Minds publishes predominantly in the social sciences and its authors are typically African academics or organizations. African Minds received a 2017 Digital Impact Grant for the project “Open Data Intermediaries and Economic Ownership Rights.”
Intermediaries who make data open (by voluntarily waiving their ownership rights, such as by the application of an open license) currently do so for several reasons. One reason is that they do so because they have a not-for-profit, social good mandate; another reason is that they seek to profit from complementary goods and services (e.g. platforms). That intermediaries (including data collectors, curators and investors) have all the ownership rights in open data exchanges has been highlighted in recent research.
But the problems and risks that this asymmetry of rights poses for private citizens (and vulnerable or marginalized groups) seems lost on open data advocates; possibly because the framing of certain issues around open data have become distorted by a misplaced belief in the inherent good of ‘openness’.
The core problem is that data “ownership” is typically framed in open data debates as a privacy or as an ethical issue at the individual level, and not as an economic issue. Individuals don’t explicitly place financial value on their data at the micro level, even though they are implicitly making value exchanges every time they give up their data (usually in exchange for some form of convenience or discount or service), some of which may or may not end up in the public domain at the behest of intermediaries. Open data intermediaries capitalize on this by extracting value from consolidated data sets. Absent in the research literature is a consideration of how open data intermediaries may infringe on the economic ownership rights of those individuals from whom they ‘extract’ data. A lack of enforceable data rights owned by certain communities contributes to inequality and marginalization.
Empirical evidence on the actors and flows of data, the creation of value and the distribution of returns is needed to highlight the fact that while open data intermediaries have many valuable roles to play in data ecosystems, they also introduce the risk of unintended and possibly perverse effects by infringing on the ownership rights of those individuals who provide data.
Gustavo Magalhaes presented the work of African Minds and partners at the Data on Purpose conference at Stanford University in February 2019.
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