I was invited to speak at the Innovation Summit of the European Parliament, on November 18. In a session with a.o. former commissioner Viviane Reding, and member of parliament Michael Boni, I raised the question of data ownership, and argued that all current economic discourse about the innovative potential of big data, forgets the main stakeholder in this field, which is the public. It is hard to counter that discours of economic growth and job creation (who could be against that), but absolutely necessary. In the current opinion climate, people tend to display quite a bit of unease and discomfort around their personal data, and the extent to which these data are used by third parties. As we showed in the IMPRINTS research this is an anxiety that is not always very rational, but based in a long tradition of distrusting the state and its methods of registration. The first official passport document in the UK in the early 19th century, for instance, was already detested. That distrust is continuously fed, by actual events, but also by populist rethoric and pop culture; Dave Egger’s recent novel The Circle, for instance, can be seen as the 1984 of this age, complete with newspeak: “Secrets are Lies, Sharing is Caring, and Privacy is Theft."
How to keep the potential of big data and make them useful for humankind rather than for corporate profit? My argument was that data should be local, transparent and reciprocal, meaning that the potential for socially useful applicaiton should be identified at the local, urban level, in ways that are transparent, and offer the possiblity of control and one’s own data usage. We will develop that position further in E-Urban, the urban big data centre that we have developed in Rotterdam, which is built on research, design and co-creation, and in which we collaborate with the City of Rotterdam.
To be continued…..
Written by Liesbet van Zoonen