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Data, Part 1: Resource or Responsibility?


mydata_banner_horisontal2Written by Minna Horowitz, Assistant Professor in the Division of Mass Communication at St. John’s University, New York. 

This is a two-part blog series on current discussions about data and its social, economic, and cultural implications.

The first part is based on the  MyData 2017 conference (30 August – 1 September 2017 in Tallinn and Helsinki). Minna Horowitz attended the conference as background research for a study on the project Ranking Digital Rights she is conducting with Julia Theilen (primary researcher).

The second part will address data as a tool in implementing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, based on a related workshop at the UN Headquarters (19 September 2017).


MyData is an annual international conference for the industry, advocacy organizations, and researchers to study and discuss human-centric personal information management. A multistakeholder event, its contents reflect the complexity of the issue of data, even if the focus is on “my data”, personal information. The presentation sessions focused on consent for data use, insights for consumer behaviour, technical building blocks, roadmaps of data markets, ethics, and the global landscape. One key topic was the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of the European Union that will be enforced as at mid 2018, not the least because it will include salty penalties for data breaches as well as extra-territorial applicability beyond Europe.

The most interesting theme, however, was the role of data in our societies – and how that has changed in the past years. We still hear and read claims about “data being the new oil” (as in this article by the Economist from May 2017). This may be true for the internet giants but for lesser organizations and businesses the tide has turned. Data is a headache – in the sense that there is so much of it: it is hard to manage, and keep safe (as the recent Equifax case illustrates)  let alone effectively analyze. From the citizen-consumer’s perspective, not only are privacy issues challenging, but there are few efforts, for example apps, to coordinate all the data stored about an individual. This is a problem of updating some data, as well as knowing who knows what about you (your state, your bank, your employer, you gym…). Coupled with that is the fallacy that us as individuals couldn’t use our data; that it is “oil” only for governments and corporations.

MyData meetings have resulted in the first step to a more human-centric approach to data: The Declaration of MyData Principles. The declaration lists six action points: Human-centric control of personal data; individuals (rather than organizations) as the point of integration of data; individuals having agency, initiative and management rights of their data; portability of personal data from a context to another; transparency and accountability of the users of data; and interoperability, i.e., common practices and standards for businesses and other organizations in data use.

For more information on specific topics, you can access MyData presentations here, and videos of the sessions will be posted on the site in the near future. If interested, you can view and sign the MyData Declaration as an individual or for an organization, here.


One response to “Data, Part 1: Resource or Responsibility?”


    […] The first part was based on the MyData 2017 conference; you can read it here. […]

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