A New Approach to Digital Public Goods Is Gaining Steam

Article by Susan Ariel Aaronson: “Data is different from other inputs. Researchers in the public and private sectors can reuse troves of data indefinitely without that data losing its value. Individuals can use the same data for multiple purposes. They can create new products or research complex problems. Hence, data is multidimensional. It can simultaneously be a commercial asset and a public good.

Firms have long relied on data to improve the efficiency and quality of goods and services. However, today market actors also utilize data to create entirely new services, such as personalized healthcare. Data-driven sectors such as social networks and artificial-intelligence services are the foundation of today’s global economy. These sectors also enabled much of the world to function during the pandemic.

However, some seven companies in the U.S. and China collect, control, protect, analyze and sell much of the world’s data. According to the U.N. agency UNCTAD, these data behemoths control much of data collection through their provision of services; data transmissions through submarine cables and satellites; data storage; and data analysis, processing, and use. These firms rely on trade agreements to protect their intellectual property, which in turn allows them control over the data analyzed by their algorithms. Such complete control over data is dangerous for market actors large and small. When fewer researchers have access or can reuse data sets, these firms are essentially reducing the economic and social potential—the generativity of data….(More)”.