May 18, 2020, London

Dear Matt Hancock,

We are civil society organisations, privacy advocates and academic researchers writing to express concerns about the NHS’s plans to build a COVID-19 datastore. We share the common goal of preserving public confidence in systems that can help make us all safer. Therefore, before the NHS continues its plans, we urge you to provide the public with more information and take appropriate measures to reduce risk of data sharing and keep the aggregated data under democratic control.

In March, the NHS announced a new plan to build a datastore that aggregates COVID-19 health data…

What they are and how they relate

How do data trusts relate to data commons? When trying to make sense of the many data governance models and data sharing arrangements in existence this question comes up a lot. Here I give some basic insights into how I tend to think about the relationship between a data commons and a data trust.

Photo by Jayden Wong on Unsplash

Common Pool Resources and their management

To understand a data commons, we need to first understand what defines a common good, or, more accurately, a common pool resource (CPR).

A CPR has two key characteristics: its use is rivalrous and it’s hard to exclude others from using the resource. What this means…

Read the full essay on the Mozilla Blog.

Data breaches, micro-targeting, advertising based on our data, nudges and gamification, they are not all bad all the time, but for the most part we, users and citizens, never asked for it and were never asked about it. The mass amounts of data about us, about our cities, about our health and our environment were mostly collected and used without our consent and often without our knowledge. It makes sense that the go-to response to this myriad of problems has been a move towards notice-and-consent, where the individual gets to decide what…

How do we, the general public, gain greater control over the estimated 2.5 quintillion bytes of data that is recorded, stored, processed and analysed, every day? For the moment, we have little say over what can be collected, accessed and used, and by whom. Nor do we enjoy much agency over the ways social platforms study and steer our behaviors. Let’s take Uber, if Uber does something you — a regular user — do not like, this isn’t something Uber views as up for discussion. Your only recourse is to delete the app. Your act of defiance is unlikely to…

Locked phone.

We are on the record. With or without our consent, data about us has been recorded, stored, analysed and used to predict our behaviours and gain insights into our brightest dreams and darkest secrets. Data is nothing more than our recorded actions and words: it is not good or bad in its own right. Data can give us the information we need to cure cancer, or it can be weaponised and used to steer our behaviours. What is problematic is not that data can be exploited, but that we never consented to the exploitation. When we signed up for Facebook…

Be the change you want to see in the world’, the quote that was falsely attributed to Gandhi, rings increasingly hollow. When faced with systems that benefit cheating over collaboration, becoming a kind-hearted vegan is simply not enough to motivate the worst offenders to change course. So then, in addition to being the change, how do we go about effecting change in the systems we are part of? How can we ensure they work for all of us?

One option that has recently gained popularity is to stand up to those we work for and influence those we work with…

A loud ping alerts me to the arrival of a new job. ‘Locate unboxed fashion items in the image (DON’T FORGET BELT)’ the title reads. I click the link and start tagging unboxed dresses, shoes and, indeed, belts. The job is worth 11,549 HITs, which I soon learn stands for Human Intelligence Tasks and counts the number of human actions it takes to complete it. Every time I finish a HIT, I receive 2 cents.

Today I am one of half a million ‘Turkers’: human beings who trade time and brain cells for money, on a site called Mechanical Turk…

Photo by Yannis Papanastasopoulos on Unsplash

In a community where a single dinner easily results in nine newly registered domain names, there are bound to be some projects that fall by the wayside. Not everything is permanent and that’s ok. However, while some projects may fail for reasons outside our control and while others were never meant to last, there are many that are viable but have been abandoned by their founders.

When our personal goals are no longer aligned with the things we are working on, we should be able to leave them. But our departure should not automatically relegate these projects to the cemetery…

Anouk Ruhaak

Mozilla Fellow working with AlgorithmWatch, researching data trusts / data governance models.

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