Diving Into the New Data Economy: Changing Career and an Overview of the Leading Initiatives
Two months ago, I left the startup I co-founded without knowing what challenge I would take on next. I quickly found this challenge when I re-explored an issue that I have been interested in for years: how to gain control of the data we produce.
For too long, tech giants have deceived us into giving away our data in exchange for their products. We all create a myriad of data in our daily lives and I feel as though we should have better control of the rights and economic value tied to them.
My interest in our personal data was sparked in 2013 by Edward Snowden’s leaks. Years later, I discovered Jaron Lanier’s work on the problems and solutions surrounding the use of our data in his book, Who Owns the Future? His New York Times interactive op-ed is an excellent summary of his position on the subject, and I highly recommend this to anyone interested in technology.
In their 2018 paper, A Blueprint for a Better Digital Society, Jaron and Glen Weyl laid the foundations of the data economy we are seeing emerge. They recommended creating new entities that would represent individual data producers. These new organizations have taken many forms, such as cooperatives, unions, trusts, and start-ups.
Data cooperatives and web3 data unions have emerged as the leading solutions to take back control of our data. In the following paragraphs, I will provide an overview of the most promising initiatives in both spaces.
The polypoly cooperative is the first organization I discovered that is rethinking data ownership. The coop’s founders also created a foundation and an enterprise to achieve their goal of building a decentralized data economy. The foundation supports the creation of data cooperatives outside the EU, and the enterprise develops solutions for businesses migrating to their new data economy.
Polypoly coop is developing a mobile app, the polyPod, that will let you correct, control, and monetize all your data. The app is already available for free on Android and iOS. The current version lets you explore how companies use our data, learn more about data-related terms with its lexicon, and import your data from Facebook and explore insights about it. EU citizens can already become members of the coop. Shares are €5 each.
Schluss is a Dutch start-up with a vision similar to polypoly’s. The company is building a digital vault that will store your personal information. When they launch their product, it will be accessible on your phone through an app. Schluss mentions on its website that it plans on becoming a cooperative.
Other cooperatives have a different approach and are instead focusing on a specific type of data. Here are a few examples: Driver’s Seat (gig economy delivery and rideshare), Savvy (patient testimonials), MIDATA (healthcare), Salus (healthcare), and SAOS (agriculture).
Organizations in the web3 space are taking a more fragmented approach to the problem. To accelerate their launch and growth, most web3 data union builders partner with infrastructure providers. This collaboration has led to the emergence of many data unions in a short time span. Two data union infrastructure providers that currently stand out are the Data Union DAO and Pool.
The Data Union DAO (DU DAO) is a web3 incubator with a mission to promote the creation of data unions. It is structured as a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO), which means that it is a member-owned community without centralized leadership.¹ Before the launch of the DU DAO, the services it provides were developed and offered by Streamr. In May 2021, Streamr’s token holders approved the creation of the DAO and transferred to it the Data Union technology. The incubator currently offers two services to data union builders: a framework for the crowdsourcing and crowdselling of data and grants through the Streamr Data Fund. The DAO’s team is working on implementing a 1% protocol tax to finance its ecosystem and raising funds to develop a wallet for users.
DU DAO has 6 data unions on its roster with more than 500k members combined. The following are among its ranks: Swash (web browsing), DIMO (driving), MAT (mobility), Unbanx (banking), and Re-Public (location, health, smartphone sensors).
Pool, a foundation, offers an alternative to the DU DAO. It is developing a platform that offers tools to data union builders, a wallet and personal vault for union members, and a marketplace for data buyers and retailers. In February 2022, Pool and Open Innovations launched Catalyst, an 8-week accelerator program for data unions. Through the program, cohort members receive support from potential data buyers and industry experts, as well as funding opportunities.
To extend its reach, Pool has partnered with Ozone (web browsing), Starburst (analytics), MOBI (mobility), ZmBIZI (smartphone), Unbanx (banking), LedgerPrime (asset management), and Outlier Ventures (VC).
Some additional web3 initiatives worth exploring are Brave (browser and search engine) and Dataverse (geolocation data and shopping receipts), formerly GeoDB.
What would I like to see next?
In the end, each type of entity has its own advantages. Data cooperatives represent a well-known structure, whereas web3 data unions move fast, thanks to their collaboration with data union infrastructure providers.
The next step is to combine the strengths of each type of organization.
If you enjoyed this piece and would like to learn more about my work, visit philippelabrecque.com.
EDIT: The major factor contributing to the rapid growth of web3 data unions has been their reliance on venture capital, a form of financing incompatible with cooperative principles.
Read my latest piece to learn more about the implications of different organizational structures for data intermediaries.