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DECODE: Amsterdam and Barcelona share takeaways from data commons pilots

As part of DECODE, pilots in Amsterdam and Barcelona over the last three years have used advanced technology to allow citizens to decide with whom they share their data and on what terms.

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It is reported that too much data is either misused or under-used
It is reported that too much data is either misused or under-used

Urgent steps must be taken at city, national and EU level to stop data being misused to financially benefit private companies and manipulate behaviours, a new report warns.

 

Common Knowledge: citizen-led data governance for better cities by innovation foundation Nesta makes a case for radically new ideas about how the value of personal information can be returned to citizens. It was carried out as part of the EC-funded DECODE project.

 

It follows successful pilots in Amsterdam and Barcelona over the last three years that make use of advanced technology to allow citizens to decide with whom they share their data and on what terms.

 

Data commons

 

The report calls for the establishment of a “data commons”, that can be scaled across Europe, where groups of people can pool and leverage their digital footprints on terms decided collectively.

 

The pilots demonstrated some of the technology that could be used to enable people to control their data and donate it for use in better public services. This included attribute-based credentials and advanced cryptography, which gave citizens in the pilot projects in Amsterdam and Barcelona the ability to:

  • Sign political petitions without having to reveal sensitive personal information while participating in digital democracy platforms (such as Decidim.org)
  • Log into local social networking sites with greater control over what data is being shared and for what purpose
  • Share sensor data about noise nuisance and air pollution with their communities and council without security or privacy risks, setting their data-sharing preferences via a smart contract platform
  • Prove their identity or other characteristics with a simple application without having to disclose sensitive information.

Nesta contends that data should be a “new form of public infrastructure” and a force for social good, but for this to happen the data ecosystem needs to be transformed, not just regulated.

 

Currently, the report argues, too much data is either misused (hacked, exploited or used improperly) or under-used, restricted to a narrow financial conception of value.

 

“A key battleground is control over data and who is going to own AI services built with that data: will it be controlled by big businesses and the state or by citizens?”

 

According to Nesta, an individual’s data has limited value in isolation, but when combined it can have huge power and create public value where, for instance, they could ‘donate’ it to provide better public services.

 

The concept of a data commons provides a useful set of principles to support privacy-enhanced sharing of data for public value, with the aim of reconciling both personal and collective control, while maintaining transparent, accountable and participatory governance over data, said Nesta.

 

Each commons would need careful design depending on the type of data and sector. The report provides a range of examples of the types of data commons that are emerging. These range from large-scale sharing of research data to more community-oriented forms of sharing.

 

“A key battleground is control over data and who is going to own AI services built with that data: will it be controlled by big businesses and the state or by citizens?, said Francesca Bria, founder and project lead, DECODE, and former CTO of Barcelona.

 

“The DECODE project declares that data produced by the citizen belongs to the citizen, so that the immense economic value that such data represents should be returned back to citizens. This model can be implemented at EU level, via a European Data Trust, underpinned by DECODE kind of infrastructures.”

 

Misuse of personal data

 

The DECODE project was initiated in response to fears about how personal data could be misused by big tech. The Cambridge Analytica scandal highlighted the potential for this data to be abused if it gets into the wrong hands, said Nesta.

 

The growing use of tech in healthcare also raises questions about how people can be protected from uses of their personal data which could disadvantage them.

 

DECODE is an EU Horizon 2020 project delivered by a consortium of 15 European partners, including Nesta, with communities in Amsterdam and Barcelona participating in a series of pilot schemes.

 

The growing use of tech in healthcare also raises questions about how people can be protected from uses of their personal data which could disadvantage them.

“Through DECODE’s pilots in Amsterdam and Barcelona we have moved the idea of data commons from theory to practice and paved the way for it to become the new public infrastructure of the 21st century,” added Tom Symons, head of government innovation, Nesta.

 

“Now we are calling for city, national and EU governments to commit to providing the funding and support needed for this model to really take off.”

 

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