noun_195944_ccIn today’s information-driven society, data has been described as the “new oil”. The increasing commodification of personal information throws up new challenges for individuals’ rights. The advertising-based model of the web as we know it, ensures that all aspects of online behavior become valuable to companies. With the rise of social networks, the behavioral data of millions of users interacting with each other is carefully mined, aggregated, and sold to clients. Data mining and analysis allow for more targeted advertising; every ‘click’ and ‘like’ can be used to build profiles of individuals as potential consumers.

Why data?

There has been a data explosion in the last few years. The sheer magnitude of this ‘big data’ has demanded newer, more innovative forms of information processing. Big data analytics is a fast-growing field, providing insights into consumer behavior and market dynamics which can better inform decision-making. The focus on leveraging data for business has implications for user privacy and data ownership. In a post-Snowden world, government snooping and corporate surveillance are no longer only concerns for conspiracy theorists, as ordinary lives are becoming increasingly transparent to both governments and large organisations. Constant violations of data privacy and ownership have prompted the need for a rights based approach to the issue. Personal data can be deeply revealing of people’s attitudes, beliefs, inclinations and preferences. This makes it a target for corporations and states who can monetize it through collating, regrouping and archiving. As personal data is as an extension of the individual, it needs protection against violations of any form.

Data must also be seen as a public resource that can be used for inclusive, sustainable development and capacity building. The new possibilities afforded by the digital paradigm has increased people’s capacities for participation in democratic processes, thus making data essential for governance. A United Nations report on the so-called ‘Data Revolution’ referred to data as the “lifeblood of decision making” and the “raw material for accountability”. E-governance and open government data increase government transparency and accountability to citizens. There is a need for high-quality, usable data that people must be trained to access, interpret and use.

Why should it matter?

The material here is geared towards giving practitioners and grass roots activists a comprehensive and concise overview of data based issues. Recognizing the centrality of people’s rights in the digital sphere, we engage with two broad data centered debates.At the first level, we look at micro-level, user-centric issues  which include  data protection, ownership and privacy.  At the second level, broader issues with regard to access to data, the implications of data as a public resource and alternative models of data ownership and management are explored.  Through these sections, you will be able to –

  • Gain a bird’s eye view of data issues and debates in the local and global spheres.
  • Acquaint yourself with examples and case studies that have addressed state and corporate data ownership, contestation, and control, along with notable civil society interventions.
  • Know more about international, national and quasi-legal policy frameworks and guidelines relating to data governance.
  • Critically articulate rights based understandings of data in way applicable to your praxis