The conversation around Data Philanthropy - a term which describes a new form of partnership in which private sector companies share data for public benefit - has advanced on four distinct but related levels since its emergence at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2011:
1: Conceptual development: discourse and debate
Discussions about the concept of Data Philanthropy, or private sector data sharing, have gained momentum and moved forward, reaching a broader audience. Conversations and debates around Data Philanthropy are happening in different sectors, but much more can be gained through exchange between the different stakeholder communities working on solutions and testing new approaches.
2: Research: a growing body of evidence
Researchers have been able to demonstrate the vast potential of data sets normally hidden behind corporate firewalls as a source for new insights into human behavior, creating notable case studies to support the arguments in favor of Data Philanthropy.
3: Private sector data sharing
A handful of pioneers have been testing the waters of private sector data sharing. French telecommunications company France Telecom-Orange, for example, has made anonymized records of five million mobile phone users in Cote d'Ivoire available to the research community as part of the Data for Development Challenge.
4: Searching for frameworks
A quest for suitable legal frameworks, ethical guidelines and technology solutions for privacy-preserving data sharing is taking place within various communities all over the world. Crisis mappers and disaster response experts are debating the idea of a “Big Data Philanthropy group for humanitarian response” while data privacy experts are working on sophisticated mathematical techniques like differential privacy and "space time boxes" to make personal data accessible while preserving high levels of individual privacy. Here at Global Pulse, our Legal Advisor has been consulting with data privacy experts from around the world to get inputs on the data privacy guidelines we will follow in our Pulse Labs.
Obstacles on the road ahead:
Despite the growing acknowledgement of the benefits, we are far from having a viable and sustainable model for private sector data sharing. This is due to a number of challenges - most of which revolve around personal data privacy, and corporate market competitiveness. Companies have to protect the individual privacy of their customers as well as their own competitiveness. The possibility of re-identification in the age of big data is a real and growing concern. Solutions, guidelines and best practices are needed for how data can be stripped of any personally identifiable information, and only the aggregate level trends are shared.
The list of challenges is certainly much longer than those listed above, and all of them could pose obstacles on the road to private sector data sharing, hence it’s more then ever necessary keep the debate, research and framework development going in order to find appropriate solutions to the issues data-sharing presents.
Global PulseAndreas Pawelke and Anoush Rima Tatevossian May 8, 2013