Elizabeth Renieris and Dazza Greenwood give different words to my previously expressed concerns about the narrative frame of personal ownership of data and selling it as a tool to counteract the data krakens like Facebook. The key difference is in tying it to different regulatory frameworks, and when each of those comes into play. Property law versus human rights law.

I feel the human rights angle also will serve us better in coming to terms with the geopolitical character of data (and one that the EU is baking into its geopolitical proposition concerning data). In the final paragraph they point to the ‘basic social compact’ that needs explicit support. That I connect to my notion of how so much personal data is also more like communal data, not immediately created or left by me as an individual, but the traces I leave acting in public. At Techfestival Aza Raskin pointed to fiduciary roles for those holding data on those publicly left personal data traces, and Martin von Haller mentioned how those personal data traces also can serve communal purposes and create communal value, placing it in yet another legal setting (that of weighing privacy versus public interest)

Read Do we really want to “sell” ourselves? The risks of a property law paradigm for personal data ownership. (Medium)

….viewing this data as property that is capable of being bought, sold, and owned by others is in large part how we ended up with a broken internet funded by advertising — or the “ad tech model” of the Internet. A property law-based, ownership model of our data risks extending this broken ad tech model of the Internet to all other facets of our digital identity and digital lives expressed through data. While new technology solutions are emerging to address the use of our data online, the threat is not solved with technology alone. Rather, it is time for our attitudes and legal frameworks to catch up. The basic social compact should be explicitly supported and reflected by our business models, legal frameworks and technology architectures, not silently eroded and replaced by them.

Last week I attended Techfestival in Copenhagen. I participated in a day long Public Data Summit. This posting are thoughts and notes based on some of what was discussed during that Public Data Summit.

Techfestival.co Public Data SummitGroup work at the Public Data Summit

Martin von Haller Groenbaek (we go back in open data a long time) provided an interesting lightning talk at the start of the Public Data Summit. He posited that in order to realise the full potential of open (government) data, we probably need to be more relaxed in sharing personal data as well.

There is a case to be made, I agree. In energy transition for instance your (real time) personal electricity use is likely key information. The aggregated yearly usage of you and at least 10 neighbours e.g. the Dutch electricity networks make available is not useless by far, but lacks the granularity, the direct connection to real people’s daily lives to be truly valuable for anything of practical use.

I agree with the notion that more person related data needs to come into play. Martin talked about it in terms of balancing priority, if you want to fix climate change, or another key societal issue, personal data protection can’t be absolute.

Now this sounds a bit like “we need your personal data to fight terrorism” which then gets translated “give me your fingerprints or your safety and security is compromised”, yet that is both an edge case and an example of the types of discussions needed to find the balancing point, to avoid false dilemma’s or better yet prevent reductionism towards ineffective simplicity (such as is the case with terrorism, where all sense of proportionality is abandoned). The balancing point is where the sweet spot of addressing the right level of complexity is. In the case of terrorism the personal data sharing discussion is framed as “you’re either with us, or with the terrorists” to quote Bush jr., a framing in absolutes and inviting a cascade of scope creep.

To me this is a valuable discussion to be had, to determine when and where sharing your personal data is a useful contribution to the common good or even should be part of a public good. Currently that ‘for the common good’ part is not in play mostly. We’re leaking personal data all over the tech platforms we use, without much awareness of its extend or how it is being used. We do know these data are not being used for the common good as it’s in no-one’s business model. This public good / common good thinking was central to our group work in the Public Data Summit during the rest of the day too.

Martin mentioned the GDPR as a good thing, certainly for his business as a lawyer, but also as a problematic one. Specifically he criticised the notion of owning personal data, and being able to trade it as a commodity based on that ownership. I agree, for multiple reasons. One being that a huge amount of our personal data is not directly created or held by me, as it is data about behavioural patterns, like where my phone has been, where I used my debit card, the things I click, the time I spent on pages, the thumbprint of my specific browser and plugins setup etc. The footsteps we leave on a trail in the forest aren’t personal data, but our digital footsteps are, because the traces can, due to the persistence of those tracks, more easily than in the woods be followed back to their source as well as can get compared to other tracks you leave behind.

Currently those footsteps in the digital woods are contractualised away into the possession of private owners of the woods we walk in, i.e. the tech platforms. But there’s a strong communal aspect to your and my digital footsteps as personal data. We need to determine how we can use that collectively, and how to govern that use. Talking about the ownership of data, especially the data we create by being out in the (semi) public sphere (e.g. tech platforms) and the ability to trade for it (like Solid suggests), has 2 effects: it bakes in the acceptance that me allowing FB to work with my data is a contract between equal parties (GDPR rightly tries to address this assymmetry). Aza Raskin in his keynote mentioned this too, saying tech platforms should be more seen and regulated as fiduciaries, to acknowledge the power asymmetry. And it takes the communal part of what we might do with data completely out of the equation. I can easily imagine when and where I’d be ok with my neighbours, my local government, a local NGO, or specific topical/sectoral communities etc. having access to using data about me. Where that same use by FB et al would not be ok at all under any circumstance.

In the intro’s to the public data summit civil society however was very much absent, there was talk about government and their data, and how it needed the private sector to do something valuable with it. Where to me open (e-)government, and opening data is very much about allowing the emergence and co-creation of novel public services by government/governance working together with citizens. Things we maybe not now regard as part of public institutions, structures or the role of government, but that in our digitised world very well could, or even should, be.

Amexus is organising a conference on digitisation in the energy sector, and more specifically in the energy transition. Earlier this week I was interviewed at home about the role of open data in energy transition and my work with Dutch provinces on this topic.

The video, in German, has already been made available.

The Austrian Open Knowledge Chapter is dissolving itself (link in German), a decision already made at a general assembly in December 2018. Judging by the website activities had petered out in recent years, the blog falling silent at the end of 2017.

Austria over the years has been an active country concerning open government data and open knowledge in general. Specifically I see the Austrian open data community as a globally relevant good practice example, one that I still regularly refer to. Already in 2010, when I spoke at an open data meet-up in Graz, and in subsequent years presenting at OGD Austria conferences and various other events, what stood out to me was the broad scope the Austrian open data community had. Academia, activists, the federal chancellery, state governments, city governments, start-ups, technologists and traditional re-users were all around the same table. Informal get-togethers and resulting relations formed a basis on which more formal structures and cooperative initiatives could grow. I think such a solid community fundament is the key reason Austria was able to achieve a lot on open data in the absence of any legal framework to actively stimulate it, moreover with a constitution that enshrines civil service secrecy.

For a few years I was quite well informed about the Austrian efforts, through regular visits, and regular calls between German speaking community leaders from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and me as the odd one out. Over time my connection grew more distant however.

With Open Knowledge Austria ceasing to exist, a chapter ends. I suspect the community substrate on which it could exist will endure, even if events, individual members lives and contexts are always in flux around us. It is laudable that OK Austria is actively deciding to dissolve. Organisations all too easily stumble into the pitfall that continued existence becomes the organisation’s primary goal. By dissolving, as Stefan Kasberger, OK Austria’s chair, wrote, one releases its hold on specific topics and niches in an ecosystem, and it becomes possible for new things to emerge over time.

Linz, OGD Austria
At the 2012 OGD Austria conference in Linz, a wall at the venue carried the text, near the floor obviously, “Above starts down below”. It seemed a good description of how the Austrian open data efforts were based on solid bottom-up community building to me at the time.

This looks like a very useful work, by over 65 authors and a team of editors including Mor Rubinstein and Tim Davis: The State of Open Data

A little over a decade has passed since open data became a real topic globally and in the EU. I had my first discussions about open data in the spring of 2008, and started my first open data project, for the Dutch Ministry for the Interior, in January 2009. The State of Open Data looks at what has been achieved around the world over that decade since, but also looks forward:

How will open data initiatives respond to new concerns about privacy, inclusion, and artificial intelligence? And what can we learn from the last decade in order to deliver impact where it is most needed? The State of Open Data brings together over 65 authors from around the world to address these questions and to take stock of the real progress made to date across sectors and around the world, uncovering the issues that will shape the future of open data in the years to come.

Over 18 months the authors and editors worked to pull all this material together. That is quite an impressive effort. I look forward to working my way through the various parts in the coming time. Next to the online version African Minds has made a hard copy version available, as well as a free downloadable PDF. That PDF comes in at 594 pages, so don’t expect to take it all in in one sitting.

I freue mich das ich Ende September über offene Daten sprechen werde auf der Energie.Digital Konferenz in Münster. Das ist eine gute Gelegenheit unsere Erfahrungen mit offene Daten als Verwaltungsinstrument und als Zündholz für die Handlungsfähigkeit von sehr unterschiedlichen Beteiligten zu teilen. Gerade auch bezüglich Energiewende und Stadtwerke, die Themen der Konferenz. Ausserdem kam die Einladung von Max, und wird auch Robert mit dabei sein.