What if you, as individuals, had a choice about how your data was used online? What if it wasn’t up to a few corporations to use your data for their own benefit? How do we go about making a Fair Data Economy real? To help tackle these questions we invited the leading specialist in human-driven data economy at Sitra, Tiina Härkönen, to join as our guest. You can read a recap below, or watch the recording on our YouTube channel.

A Fair Data Economy

What is a Fair Data Economy? Tiina tells us that it’s a data economy that is fair for all parties and all stakeholders – individuals, the public sector, companies, and society as a whole. It’s fair for all. Sadly, Tiina explains, we don’t currently have a Fair Data Economy. She says that these “Super Platforms”, also known as Big Tech, are not giving us a choice.

“If you’re a parent of a child with a hobby, and you want to contribute somehow, you probably want to use Facebook. Or if you’re in an organization, or work for a company, you probably want to use a Google account, to fill in Google documents. So, do you really have a choice? Not really. It’s not voluntary anymore,” Tiina says.

Still, Tiina is optimistic, and thinks many people have already “woken up” to the dangers of a society that runs on giving a few companies the keys to even our most personal information. “I think, for example, the MyData movement is a fantastic example of people waking up. If you talk to your friends now, compared to two years back, I think you can hear the worry. They want to do something and they want to have a choice.” 

We continue by asking Tiina what Sitra is. Tiina explains that Sitra is independent and non-political, working towards building a better future with sustainability in mind. One of Sitra’s projects is IHAN. “We’re creating a method for data sharing, and building a foundation for that particular Fair Data Economy,” Tiina says. “We are also describing and documenting guidelines and ethical principles to help companies become more fair. We’re trying to get companies’ support to change their business models, since we believe in data sharing, and finding new insight via that data sharing.”

When asked about the goals for Sitra, Tiina says that they want to see a Fair Data Economy happen. “We want companies to understand that there is an alternative business model to their old-fashioned linear business models. We want them to understand the concept of data sharing and ecosystems. We also wish to have an impact on the EU development programs. We want the political decision makers to understand the importance of fairness and trust in data economy”, Tiina explains.

Tiina tells us that the MyData conference is the conference to attend when talking about personal data. One of the companies that will be attending the conference is MyCelia, an ecosystem for music makers that is also funded by Sitra. “As a music maker, if you play guitar or violin in a concert, it might take two years before you get your money,” Tiina says.. “Imogen Heap created MyCelia, an ecosystem where you can grow as a music maker, find opportunities, and find companies that need your performance. At the same time, you get your money. It’s fair.”

The Super Platforms in the Wild West

Tiina tells us about two different kinds of data economies. There’s the eastern economy, with the Big Brother kind of state-owned data, and then there’s the Wild West. In the Wild West, Super Platforms own the data. Tiina gives an example of how running a company in the Wild West can go. 

“Let’s say I have a company, and I want to have a relationship with our local customer, and I want to advertise to them. What do I do?” Tiina asks. “I give money to a Super Platform in the US or China. So I pay a Super Platform to show my advert to my customer, and then I get stupid, because I only get a small amount of that data back. So I pay the Super Platform to get more stupid. What is the point? The Super Platforms, on the other hand, haul all that data, so they know everything that happens around that click. To me, that is really weird. Something is wrong with that model.”

She continues by saying that when the Super Platforms are hoarding all of this data, they get a huge advantage, because they’re teaching their artificial intelligence and algorithms how to use the data. “They’re getting better at it all the time. The Super Platforms are playing by their own rules, and that’s really sad,” Tiina exclaims.

When it comes to these Super Platforms, you can’t be sure of anything. It’s difficult to understand what it is that we consent to, Tiina says. “If you care about your privacy, you can’t use Super Platforms without acknowledging that your data is going places you don’t want it to go.”

Tiina says that companies that want to be trendsetters and trailblazers should always be asking  for consent, and promise not to share our data with other parties without that consent. She explains that companies that respect users’ privacy, and that people are becoming more careful, will survive. “If you have this willingness to think differently and experiment, then you are the right company to start experimenting,” she says. “I think the company should be thinking about how they’re working now. How long is that business model going to last? Because people and companies are changing all the time.”

Finally, we ask Tiina if the dream of a Fair Data Economy is attainable. She says that it certainly is. “We need trust between the individual and companies and the public sector. Trust,” says Tiina, “can be an advantage for us. If we build our services and innovate with trust at the foundation, people will be more willing to use our services. If someone says that privacy is dead – don’t believe them. Do not believe them. You do have a choice, and if we get to the fair data economy, everybody has a choice. It is certainly attainable.”

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