Digital Agency: how to navigate, own and understand data and its complex economy
The world we live in today is one of the colossal amounts of data, which is set for exponential growth. In 2020, International Data Corporation has predicted that the quantity of data created over the next three years will exceed the data created over the past 30 years. There is no doubt that data is the foundation for societal and environmental change and the key for a sustainable economic growth. A data-driven economy, thus, holds the promise of an innovative and informed tomorrow. Nonetheless, there are some crucial aspects to consider before we can imagine this future belonging to everyone.
As of now, the data-driven economy is utterly asymmetrical. The market is controlled by a handful of tech giants with an enormous head start and infinite financial resources. These companies execute dominance over innovation itself. By utilising their vast intellectual and technical assets to gather and analyse huge amounts of data, they gain the necessary insights to produce the next breakthrough technology.
Entering this market can already be daunting for newcomer businesses, but when it comes to individuals — it can feel disorienting, to say the least.
When introducing individuals into the data economy, it is necessary for them to understand what data is. Yet data is inherently intangible, disseminated and, as of now, mostly inaccessible. For many, data remains an abstract term reserved for computer scientists.
Due to this complex character of the notion itself and the lack of direct engagement with it, individuals may have distorted views on how to handle data. Some people choose to give it away, despite knowing that it may be misused — a phenomenon known as the Privacy Paradox. This approach is no doubt profitable for the big tech firms, but it creates an unhealthy relationship between individuals and their data, which can have a disastrous effect on the fair future of data economy.
Moreover, when people do come across the world of data, it is usually through news reports on huge data breach scandals. In the minds of individuals, data as a whole becomes associated with privacy violation or abuse. This, in turn, results in individuals believing that the best way to deal with their data is by denying access to it. Such an approach induces a risk of people excluding themselves from the new data economy altogether instead of reaping its benefits.
These examples illustrate how the lack of education and means of data management for individuals can result in unwanted and unfruitful outcomes, halting the innovation.
When it comes to an actionable paradigm for individual involvement in the new data economy, we are barely at its cusp. Whereas the legal point of departure was introduced through regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the US, there is a staggering lack of tangible tools of involvement. How can an individual digital agency be implemented in practice? What are the necessary instruments to position individuals at the centre of a new data economy, allowing them to execute ownership over their data?
Until now, individuals’ rights over their data were mostly based on consent, which is in itself passive. Such an approach creates an illusion of involvement while, in fact, marginalising individuals within the data economy and limiting their agency to a simple yes and no. Instead, individuals should be given a possibility to execute rights over their data, which should be perceived as any other asset that can be possessed, used, disposed and used for financial gain.
What is needed are easily understandable and somewhat familiar instruments to deal with this new asset class that gives individuals the ability to have control over their data, manage access to this data and be compensated fairly for such access.
Navigating the data world
How should one start navigating the complex data world as an individual? Creating tools for personal engagement and management of data should be assumed as a responsibility by regulators and businesses. Given that data is valuable only in enormous quantities, we should expect interested parties to provide actionable methods for persons to tap into and monetise this new economic value. However, this should be done in a way that puts individuals at the centre of the data exchange, first and foremost ensuring them granular and informed control over third party access to their data — through the possibility to grant and revoke data access consent to legitimate parties — thus safeguarding their interests.
An example of one such initiative is the IoT and Blockchain software start-up EcoSteer. Based on end-to-end encryption and smart contracts, its patented Data Ownership Platform allows to decentralise data access control and give it back to the rightful data owners. As a result, individuals can grant or revoke access to the visibility of the real-time data streams and be compensated for data sharing. The compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is thus implicit in this technology.
Initiatives such as this one endow individuals with an active role as valuable and informed participants in the new data economy. They have the potential to disrupt the current centralised, monopolistic data market and create a paradigm for the execution of the individual digital agency. Creating value for both individuals and businesses paves the way to a better-informed future and major advances for society as a whole.