Why data about people are so hard to govern

Paper by Wendy H. Wong, Jamie Duncan, and David A. Lake: “How data on individuals are gathered, analyzed, and stored remains largely ungoverned at both domestic and global levels. We address the unique governance problem posed by digital data to provide a framework for understanding why data governance remains elusive. Data are easily transferable and replicable, making them a useful tool. But this characteristic creates massive governance problems for all of us who want to have some agency and choice over how (or if) our data are collected and used. Moreover, data are co-created: individuals are the object from which data are culled by an interested party. Yet, any data point has a marginal value of close to zero and thus individuals have little bargaining power when it comes to negotiating with data collectors. Relatedly, data follow the rule of winner take all—the parties that have the most can leverage that data for greater accuracy and utility, leading to natural oligopolies. Finally, data’s value lies in combination with proprietary algorithms that analyze and predict the patterns. Given these characteristics, private governance solutions are ineffective. Public solutions will also likely be insufficient. The imbalance in market power between platforms that collect data and individuals will be reproduced in the political sphere. We conclude that some form of collective data governance is required. We examine the challenges to the data governance by looking a public effort, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, a private effort, Apple’s “privacy nutrition labels” in their App Store, and a collective effort, the First Nations Information Governance Centre in Canada…(More)”