Why Data Accessibility Is the Biggest Issue of Our Time
Guest Written by Gil Elbaz
In an information economy, data is the most valuable resource—but data accessibility and transparency is a major challenge.
Due to the economics of business and concern around competitive advantage, data is often siloed and hidden within mighty walled gardens.
Data, as a resource, is the new oil.1 Big tech has been incredibly adept at getting consumers to share personal data—and as a result, they now own a disproportionate percentage of data.
Read the full Value of Data report
Data Accessibility Driving Innovation
This information not only powers the smart devices we’ve come to rely on as a society but can provide invaluable insights into patterns, trends, and needs of peoples and economies, which in turn drive innovation.
Unfortunately, data accessibility plagues most organizations across the globe—from companies to governments to healthcare and nonprofits. For them, the world’s most valuable resource is costly, or just impossible, to access. If we can’t increase data accessibility, we risk stifling future innovations by limiting the access to a select few.
More than 10 years ago when I left big tech to start Factual, few people understood that these companies might one day not just dominate your online attention, but also dominate other verticals like auto, television, music, retail, payments, and yes, government.
A decade later, this idea is more commonly understood. Yet most of that domination beyond “digital” into all other realms of your life has really only just begun.
To encourage fair trade in data, we must educate consumers on its importance, how it is collected, what it is being used for and how they can protect it.
Creating a Data Accessible World
It will take individuals, organizations and policy-makers working together to create a world in which data can flourish, while still respecting the needs and rights of individuals and companies.
Concepts like a data marketplace and data philanthropy are opening doors for the equitable dissemination and trade of information, but these are still in their infancy. I firmly believe solving the access problem to high-quality, “factual” data is the single most significant opportunity to ensure a continued pace of innovation far into our future.
Building a Foundation of Trust
We will only realize the full benefit of data if there is a foundation of trust. Those contributing to the input need transparency and understanding up front. While those leveraging the data for end users must act ethically.
It goes without saying that data services need to be legally compliant, but we need to go beyond that and commit to acting in the end user’s best interests. At Factual, we guide our data policies by:
- Supporting our mission to democratize access to data so that innovation can be widespread.
- Working to mitigate privacy risks for consumers and protecting individual consumers from negative impacts, to the best of our ability.
- Providing visibility and choice to consumers who decide that they don’t want to be targeted with advertising.
- Building upon our brand as the trusted steward of the world’s data.
Mitigating Data Privacy Risk
Within this basic framework, there are many judgment calls where we may have to assess various categories of risk before sharing any data. So, we have developed a checklist that helps identify these categories and factors. When assessing our commercial relationships, we consider a number of factors to identify categories of risk. We then ask ourselves a series of questions that help mitigate potential risks, which may include:
- Is any personal data involved?
- Will any such personal data be anonymized or pseudonymized2 before sharing?
- Will personal data be aggregated?
- Do affiliates have appropriate security technologies and policies in place to protect data from intentional hacking or accidental leakage?
- Will usage patterns lead to a situation in which pseudonymous data can be re-associated with personally identifiable information?
- Has the recipient contractually agreed to comply with local laws and regulations?
The Path to Data Accessibility
No one is claiming it will be easy to increase data accessibility while safeguarding the data, but it is imperative we find a way forward that can benefit everyone. The cost of impeding innovation by not accomplishing this objective is too great.
At Factual, we are proud to be leading a charge in data accessibility. Our hope is that by pioneering the policies, methods and processes required for the safe, ethical sharing of data, we can help inform and unleash the power of the larger data economy. If we can accomplish this, the innovation spurred during the next decade will be staggering.
Gil Elbaz is an accomplished entrepreneur and pioneer of natural language technology. In 1998, Gil co-founded Applied Semantics Inc. (ASI) which developed contextual advertising products, including ASI’s AdSense. He is currently CEO and Founder of his second startup, Factual.