Data Responsibility: Social Responsibility for a Data Age

TED-X Talk by Stefaan Verhulst: “In April 2015, the Gorkha earthquake hit Nepal—the worst in more than 80 years. Hundreds of thousands of people were rendered homeless and entire villages were flattened. The earthquake also triggered massive avalanches on Mount Everest, and ultimately killed nearly 9,000 people across the country.

Yet for all the destruction, the toll could have been far greater. Without mitigating or in any way denying the horrible disaster that hit Nepal that day, the responsible use of data helped avoid a worse calamity and may offer lessons for other disasters around the world.

Following the earthquake, government and civil society organizations rushed in to address the humanitarian crisis. Notably, so did the private sector. Nepal’s largest mobile operator, Ncell, for example, decided to share its mobile data—in an aggregated, de-identified way—with the the nonprofit Swedish organization Flowminder. Flowminder then used this data to map population movements around the country; these real-time maps allowed the government and humanitarian organizations to better target aid and relief to affected communities, thus maximizing the impact of their efforts.

The initiative has been widely lauded as a model for cross-sector collaboration. But what is perhaps most striking about the initiative is the way it used data—in particular, how it repurposed data originally collected for private purposes for public ends. This use of corporate data for wider social impact reflects the emerging concept of “data responsibility.” …


The Three Pillars of Data Responsibility

1. Share. This is perhaps the most evident: Data holders have a duty to share private data when a clear case exists that it serves the public good. There now exists manifold evidence that data—with appropriate oversight—can help improve lives, as we saw in Nepal.

2. Protect. The consequences of failing to protect data are well documented. The most obvious problems occur when data is not properly anonymized or when de-anonymized data leaks into the public domain. But there are also more subtle cases, when ostensibly anonymized data is itself susceptible to de-anonymization, and information released for the public good ends up causing or potentially causing harm.

3. Act. For the data to really serve the public good, officials and others must create policies and interventions based on the insights they gain from it. Without action, the potential remains just that—mere potential, never translated into concrete results….(Watch TEDx Video).

See also International Data Responsibility Group and Data Collaboratives Project.