Bridging the data divide for planet, people and prosperity

13 Nov 2020 09:00h - 10:30h

Event report

The panel explored the existing challenges related to regulation and protection of data online and discussed alternate options to better protect user data.

Concerns were expressed that the data value chains today are concentrated with few players and creating a digital data divide, which has resulted in big tech companies gaining unassailable market. The concentration of data, Ms Deepti Bharthur (Senior Research Associate, IT for Change [(ITfC]) observed, has been in terms of across different verticals as well as different layers of the same vertical. As an example of the highly global economy she shared that 90% of market capitalisation of the 70 largest big tech companies are in the USA or China.

According to  Bharthur, the reasons behind this data concentration are: inadequate antitrust and competition frameworks; ineffective international taxation frameworks; lack of global regulation to govern data: and inadequate national digital infrastructure.

Mr Duncan McCann (Digital Economy Lead, New Economics Foundation) stressed the need to bridge the data divide across the world, both between and within countries. He also mentioned the need to create a more equitable digital economy so that economic and soft powers are not concentrated in the hands of a few. McCann suggested enforcing data minimisation and purpose limitation principles on big tech as solutions. He also had three suggestions that can be adopted as collective responses to data concentration: (a) Formation of data unions to fight for the data rights of workers, (b) Formation of data trusts, (c) Creation of data co-ops which follow the co-operative model, such as the Swiss data co-op MyData.

Bhartur suggested; introducing data sharing, structural separation of roles between big tech companies, establishing ownership of non-personal data, and creation of data co-operatives as solutions.

Ms Nicole Alix (Chairwoman of La Coop des Communs) highlighted the open digital platform collective, ‘platform en-comms’ as an example for de-concentration of the value chain.

Platform co-ops were underlined as an alternative model to democratise governance. Highlighting the benefits of platform co-ops, Alix highlighted the five principles of platform co-ops: (a) inclusive governance and fair distribution of value; (b) data ethics; (c) production of commons; (d) co-operation between members. Co-opscycle which is a bike delivering and Open Food Network were shared as examples of platform co-ops.

Mr Obasegun Ayodele (Development Engineer, Vilsquare) shared how his organisation is helping bridge the data divide in Africa by citing the two examples: (a) The  seasonal rain prediction platform, Open Nigeria, that was used by over 50 000 farmers across 9 countries in Africa since January 2020, (b) the digital learning platform for remote learning  students across Africa, VoltSchool, during the COVID-19 pandemic which made education affordable to 10 000 students.  He pointed to the open access movement which fosters innovation and collaboration sharing the example of Volt Microscope developed in Africa as an output of the open science initiative.

Other important suggestions included:

  • The need to keep working to distribute the benefit of data to all communities and countries; 
  • Ensuring companies mandatorily share data with public agencies; 
  • Promoting alternative data sharing models and regulations that are well designed and future-ready among all stakeholders.