Can we own our big data ourselves ?

Can the commons serve as an alternative to the corporate or state domination of big data, the lifeblood of this dawning digital world? Can it serve as the foundation for collective empowerment? Can it provide a means of criticizing the IT corporations’ perception of themselves?

From the Berliner Gazette, presenting the project, ‘Big Data in Our Hands’, which proposes five potential solutions:

“Today the importance of “big data” cannot be understated, nor can the power relations that circulate through it be ignored or downplayed. Data processing is becoming a key means by which our society, economy and social lives are being shaped.

However, mass collection, storage and analysis of private data sets is organised by companies, governments and secret service agencies in mostly non-transparent, unregulated ways, lacking effective democratic control. This is undermining fundamental individual and civil rights and the power of the people in general.

Therefore we need to put things into perspective: We, the users, produce more than 75% of the data that make up our digital universe. However, we do not think of those data as the product of our collective labour and therefore as something we should own. Instead large corporations and powerful states own ‘our’ big data. So we need to ask: Is there a way to turn big data into our digital commons?

Both individual and common privacy rights as well as autonomy are fundamental human rights and also common goods that need to be consciously and intentionally cultivated and protected. Therefore, these principles ought to be applied to big data and guide its use and governance.

We, as individuals and collectively, produce data, therefore we should claim, and fight for, the rights as well as capacities to govern and control it. Big data should be a common good. Everyone should have the power to take decisions about big data as a common good and how it should be organized within the commons.”