The act of accepting the “terms of service” on an app or platform is a very one-sided process — the provider gets all the say, while the user has very little choice. Put simply, the user’s options include: accept the terms, or don’t use the app. Within those terms, the language regarding how data will be used is often very vague and provides the provider with endless possibilities on how to use, share and sell your data. Going forward, this one-sided deal might motivate users to stop sharing their data online, which could impact future economic growth and reduce innovation.

In this video, Bianca Wylie and Sean McDonald discuss how applying the legal concept of trusts — such as land trusts — to data can prove beneficial. A trust defines many key factors about who can access the data, for what purpose and under what terms. If users have the power to collectively set these guidelines, then there is greater potential for innovation and positive outcomes for everyone at the table.

Transcript

[BIANCA]

Hi, I’m Bianca.

[SEAN]

And I’m Sean.

[BIANCA]

And we’ve been talking a lot about data governance lately. There are some things going on in Toronto — we’ve got Sidewalk Toronto, in the United States we’ve got Cambridge Analytica. People and their data and some of the concerns, challenges, opportunities — it’s a big topic right now. So, one of the main things is how do we get involved in those conversations more?

[SEAN]

Yeah, well, one way to do that is to treat data as a shared resource. As something that we all can own together, we can compromise and make decisions around, together.

[BIANCA]

And what kind of a process would one follow to do that? I know we’ve been talking about data trusts, is that something we need to learn about and maybe consider together? I’m saying this because I’m in a city where we’re trying to figure out what to do about data — there’s public, private, and there’s opportunities within data, and there’s risks. So, how do we think through some of those things together? That could be one use of a data trust, yes?

[SEAN]

Absolutely. Data trusts are great tools, but they’re not deterministic, so that you can do lots of different things, engage in different processes and bring in different communities. It’s important to have the set of considerations that a trust asks answered to be able to have really concrete conversations about how it is we do this together. And that level of clarity is one of the best things about data trusts. Once those decisions are made, they become legally significant.

[BIANCA]

That’s interesting because one of the major points that has come out of conversations in the last year is that we don’t have a good mechanism for the use of our collective data — aggregate data, not just me, but everybody who lives in my neighbourhood or in my city. So, this might be one of the ways to have discussions about that situation, which is really, really exciting.

[SEAN]

Absolutely. Data trusts are a way to take individual interests and also balance them with collective interests and maybe all-of-society interests. So, different levels of consideration that you then bring into the governance process — and are able to balance also public and private interests — so having everybody at the table is the best way to get the most out of something that we share together.

[BIANCA]

There’s a lot to think about and talk about with this, so I’m really excited to keep doing that.

[SEAN]

Me too.

Program
The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.
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