Our view about data co-ops

Recently, the Co-operative party published an interesting article about data co-ops. The article mention the very few initiatives worldwide including TheGoodData.

We have been invited to share our views about data ownership, the role of co-ops to exercise that right, and some initiatives that we believe that could facilitate the creation and growth of more and stronger data-co-ops.

We share our views hereafter:

Not only our data is becoming more and more valuable, not only it can be key to address new societal challenges, but it is already impacting our daily life. Proliferation of artificial intelligence and big data technologies are already biasing the choices we have when interacting with corporations or even with the Public Administration. Ownership of our data will not only make us capture part of a new factor of production that emanates from us, but will reinforce our freedom as consumers and citizens.

However, building a data co-op that helps us exercise those rights is enormously challenging. We have suffered it when building TheGoodData. Comparing to a traditional co-op there are at least two extra challenges economically speaking:

  1. Data requires huge volume. There cannot be data co-ops of 10, 100 or 1000 people. Data co-ops need to gather data from hundreds of thousands of people to become a relevant player in front of researchers, data brokers, advertisers, etc. This challenge can be attenuated by targeting a market niche, for instance a geographical one hand in hand with a city council.
  2. Volume requires building appealing services that “harvest” and process data. Either around privacy, visualisation, research or monetisation. This represents a huge upfront investment in technology development that can only see a payback after a long period in which users are attracted little by little. Many private companies surmount that barrier with the support of venture capitalists that can provide them with enough cash flow to cover that effort. Co-ops cannot normally access to that high-risk form of funding.

There are several levers that can mitigate these 2 barriers. We mention here a few of them:

  1. Collaboration among co-ops. There are some very sizeable “data pools” that are being managed by co-ops: The Co-operative Group, John Lewis Partnership, The Midcounties Co-operative, The Phone Co-op, etc. These co-ops have millions of data points that could serve as a starting point to build a very robust data co-op. It only requires willingness from participants. This collaboration could eventually be extended to genuine “sharing economy” companies that would be willing to open their users’ data to a neutral hub, owned by the people.
  2. Support from the Administration. It is the easiest help to request, and the toughest to get, but nevertheless Public Administration can provide an enormous support with limited effort. For instance, providing access to public data at a country or municipality level, legally binding corporations to facilitate data portability in a seamless standardised way, or providing public grants and tools that foster the creation of a data ecosystem.
  3. Development of legal structures in which co-ops facilitate the participation of venture capital funds. Co-ops can already hold different types of shareholders with different rights. It may be that venture capitalists could already fit into these parameters, but it would require to set up a concrete framework in collaboration with a venture capital. A showcase where the VC can envision that its target pay-back could be achievable, and its minimum shareholding rights could be guaranteed.
  4. Embracing collaboration between data holders and data traders. In a similar way to the oil industry, landowners may hold the oil property but could lack the means to extract it. In that case of data, data co-ops may focus on holding the “property rights” of their users’ data, but looking for partners that extracts, process and trades that data. In that case, the investment required would fall under the partner duties in exchange of a revenue share. These partners could be other co-ops, private companies or even new forms of platform cooperatives like DAOs (Decentralised Autonomous Organisations). For those interested in that theoretical approach, We have written a short paper that can be read here

There may be many other levers that could propel the creation and growth of data co-ops, and we would appreciate any comment/amendment to this writing. But if none of them is activated, data co-ops may become a utopia of the past. By the time when people decide to practice as data owners it may be too late to change the whole system of corporate and public surveillance where data is in hands of third parties that guarantee the prevailing economic model.

We have just received the payment of a £5,000 Innovate UK voucher

innovate uk logo

As we communicated in our Annual General Meeting, we had requested a £5,000 Innovate UK voucher. Now we can share with you that we have been awarded with this grant and in fact, we have just seen that the money is in the bank (!!!)

It’s not a big amount of money, but enough to cover the next development that we are going to release: the visualization of our interest graph compared with the average user of TheGoodData based on or browsing data. Here is a screenshot of how it looks like:

thegooddata screenshot interest view

First step towards data ownership is about awareness. Only if we are aware of the data that we create we can control it and eventually trade with it in case we want to. This is the goal of this functionality, increase our awareness of the digital footprint that we create while browsing. It help us understand how brands, ad networks and data brokers perceive that we are. Based on a similar categorization we receive some ads instead of others.

We are now testing this new feature before opening it to our users. We want to make sure that the graphs are relevant enough and that the servers can deal with the data volume. As soon as we release it we will communicate it to you.

Once we do it, we will concentrate our efforts on the next developments agreed in the AGM:

  1. Letting users choose the cause to support with the value of their data. In order to do this we will need to redesign some views and probably look for an alternative nonprofit partner (currently Zidisha)
  2. Exporting the extension to Firefox

Our resources are very limited, so it will take some time to develop those two things, so any probono support is welcome. If you want to collaborate and have some knowledge on web design, Javascript or PHP (Yii) please contact us at marcos at thegooddata dot org

Our new homepage is live, now tell us what you think!

As we agreed in our Annual General Meeting, this year we are going to implement some improvements in order to make the service easier to understand and more appealing, starting with our entry door, the homepage.

TheGoodData concept is far too complex and innovative. We needed to simplify it. We have decided to do so by focusing on our social good angle.

In a research we run early this year, we found out that it was the aspect that people valued more about us, rather than the privacy benefit, that is taken for granted and is not differential from other blocking extensions out there.

Privacy features are still going to work the same way as always, but in this new approach we have stressed the fact that our data is valuable and that we can do some good with it -if we want to donate its value-.

TheGoodData homepage

Now it is time for you to tell us what you think. You can do it in the blog comments or sending an email to marcos@thegooddata.org Any feedback will be very much appreciated.

2014 Annual General Meeting

On June 29th, 2015 we had our first Annual General Meeting. It was a great milestone for us. We hope to held more of those virtual meetings and that attendance keep growing on each event.

We believe that there is a new breed of companies that will emerge based on the networking technologies and marginal costs of production. Companies that will be fully decentralized, open and collaborative. Governance tools and processes will be much more transparent and virtual. This Annual General Meeting was our first little step into this vision.

You can read AGM calling notice and minutes here and here.

We will share in a separate post the vision that we shared and discussed for 2015, but looking into the past, our main achievements and lessons learned in 2014 were:

  • We’ve set up world’s first data coop. A truly decentralized virtual organization.
  • We’ve built our MVP based on privacy tools and collaboration mechanisms.
  • We’ve gathered around 20 collaborators, many of them participated altruistically in the strategy elaboration, legal advisory, workshops, etc. Some others wrote around 750 commits in our open code, one third of them pro-bono.
  • We’ve achieved certain PR impact with some articles published in Forbes, FastCompany and GigaOm among others.

On the other side we have learnt a lot about users perceptions and barriers of adoption. We have got very valuable feedback that explains why we haven’t achieved yet the traction that we expected. This is our main goal for 2015. We have mentioned in the past some measures that we are currently working on, and we will give you an update soon.

Introduction to the subject of Ethics of Online Privacy

An introduction to readers and netizens on the subject of ethics of online privacy.

online_privacy

(Photo Credit: HealthWorksCollective)

1) Omer Tene is an Associate Professor at the College of Management Haim Striks School of Law, while Jules Polonetsky is a Co-Chair and Director of the Future of Privacy Forum.

On privacy and big data, they say:

The principles of privacy and data protection must be balanced against additional societal values such as public health, national security and law enforcement, environmental protection, and economic efficiency.

“The tasks of ensuring data security and protecting privacy become harder as information is multiplied and shared ever more widely around the world,” they add. “Information regarding individuals’ health, location, electricity use, and online activity is exposed to scrutiny, raising concerns about profiling, discrimination, exclusion, and loss of control.”

Source: The Ethics of Privacy Protection

Source: Privacy in the Age of Big Data

2) Here are 4 basic, key things that you should do to protect your online privacy:

  • Take control of the amount of personal information that you provide online. Every time you are asked to provide personal information, consider both the risks and the benefits.
  • Educate others about the importance of online privacy and the various steps they can take to protect it. The process of maintaining as much online privacy as possible must be a communal effort for the common good.
  • Get informed about laws and other types of measures that impact online privacy — advocate for the ones you support.
  • Put your money where your privacy is: let companies know that you value your privacy and that you will take your business elsewhere if they don’t.

Source: How to Protect Your Online Privacy

3) This article from Lifehacker explains how we ruin our privacy online every day. Here are a couple of tips on taking precautions:

  • As we all know, broadcasting your location when you’re not at home is problematic. Keep a careful eye on which apps want access to your location.
  • Sites like Facebook, Google and Twitter track what you’re doing on the web to get a better idea of your behavior and serve up personalised ads. They usually do this through cookies, and we make it even easier for them to track what we’re doing by never logging out of these social networks. The good news here is that a browser extension like Disconnect (edit: or TheGoodData) is all you need to make sure companies aren’t snooping on your browsing data without you realising it.

Source: How to Protect Your Online Privacy

4) The Economist Intelligence Unit reported that consumers worldwide are becoming increasingly concerned about the security of their data online.

According to Jane Frost, CEO of Britain’s Market Research Society: “Innovative use of data for research and for big business is developing rapidly, but approaches to data privacy are not — and this is creating an ethical gray area. Consumer trust in data sharing is taking a beating, and organizations need to commit to ethical data sharing that respects personal privacy or risk jeopardizing their relationship with consumers. Ethical business is good business.”

Ethical business is good business.
— Jane Frost (Market Research Society, CEO)

Source: Information Week

6) The Electronic Frontier Foundation is the leading nonprofit organization defending civil liberties in the digital world. Founded in 1990, EFF champions user privacy, free expression, and innovation through impact litigation, policy analysis, grassroots activism, and technology development.

Read about their work and see how you can take action!

Website: EFF (About Us)

Website: EFF (Work)

Website: EFF (Take Action)