Whose data commons? Whose city?

Blog by Gijs van Maanen and Anna Artyushina: “In 2020, the notion of data commons became a staple of the new European Data Governance Strategy, which envisions data cooperatives as key players of the European Union’s (EU) emerging digital market. In this new legal landscape, public institutions, businesses, and citizens are expected to share their data with the licensed data-governance entities that will oversee its responsible reuse. In 2022, the Open Future Foundation released several white papers where the NGO (non-govovernmental organisation) detailed a vision for the publicly governed and funded EU level data commons. Some academic researchers see data commons as a way to break the data silos maintained and exploited by Big Tech and, potentially, dismantle surveillance capitalism.

In this blog post, we discuss data commons as a concept and practice. Our argument here is that, for data commons to become a (partial) solution to the issues caused by data monopolies, they need to be politicised. As smart city scholar Shannon Mattern pointedly argues, the city is not a computer. This means that digitization and datafication of our cities involves making choices about what is worth digitising and whose interests are prioritised. These choices and their implications must be foregrounded when we discuss data commons or any emerging forms of data governance. It is important to ask whose data is made common and, subsequently, whose city we will end up living in. ..(More)”