Everything data (mobility, energy use, online activity, social media, medical & genetic, financial, loyalty card, geolocation, etc.), predictive and decision-making capabilities.
Citizens are the cheap labor of the Big Data economy. The simple acts of using a smart-phone, a computer or any other connected devices automatically turns us into active producers of an omnipotent civic asset: data. Our daily activities – transportation, emailing, using apps and social media, shopping – are actually the immensely fertile ground of the Big data economy. In fact, the mere virtue of being alive in this day and age passively makes us the champion of a market expected to grow to $103G by 2027. However, fast-growing mobile data and cloud computing traffic and the rapid rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) lead to an ever growing volume of ever more complex data sets. Big data, with its high volume, velocity and variety, now requires, more than ever, advanced analytic tools to extract meaning, value and business insights from this chaos.
And yet, while there is undeniable work required to convert data into insights, the creators of the raw material – citizens – are currently left out of the conversation (and value benefit) in ways that raise serious ethical questions.
How do we take back the economic power of our digital identities? Think of a mining company who would only have to pay for its machinery and could basically extract public resources for free. That would be crazy, right? Oh wait. It’s time to face the music and realistically assess the dominant “free mining” paradigm that positions data generated by people (and often urban space itself) as passive templates, ripped for extraction. We should also consider alternative funding mechanisms that ensure public data remains a public asset, freely available to its creators – citizens – as well as new models of privacy and anonymity-preserving data collection architectures e.g. an ecosystem of civic data trusts, safe sharing sites, personal data stores and secure data collaboration platforms. The City of Barcelona, amongst a plethora of avant-garde digital practices, decided to tackle the issue of data ownership and sovereignty by embracing the notion of citizens having digital rights, while positioning the City as the custodian of these emerging rights. Through the project DECODE, the City Data Commons are currently being encrypted in decentralized data management architectures to enhance the transparency of what happens to the data, how they’re monetized – offering citizens control over their personal data.