The current pandemic – the first of the algorithmic age – has not only shown the vulnerabilities of our social, economic and health systems, it has also revealed how grossly inadequate the mechanisms, institutions and governance systems are that we rely upon to handle our data. Now is the time to rethink how we approach data.
There has been a proliferation of data amidst the pandemic.
As governments struggle to understand the problem and how to respond, solutions using data have boomed – from contact tracing mobile apps that collect and share data about our whereabouts or proximity to others, to data dashboards using location data from mobile phone apps and cell towers.
While these solutions could offer vital support, they are no panacea and hide a number of caveats that have been there all along.
The current crisis raises many of the big questions of the digital age that have long been neglected and for which we need to find answers if we want to uncover and utilize the true value of data, beyond its commercial use.
There are no easy answers given the complexity of the problems at hand, but the following three issues need to be addressed if we want to make progress towards fair, inclusive and just data ecosystems.
Rethinking individual consent
What’s more, as is the case with DNA data for instance, an individual’s decision to share their own personal data can also reveal information about people around them, including family members, even those that haven’t been born yet.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, experts were already suggesting that the individual consent model for handling personal data doesn’t work anymore. However, now that we’re facing potentially the largest global effort in history of collecting highly sensitive data and in a time where our individual actions have significant collective consequences, it is suddenly clear that individual consent is ill-suited as a mechanism to handle personal data.
We need to look beyond individual consent. Recognizing our interdependence and interconnectedness in the data collected, analyzed and shared about us, we should think about community consent as a collective decision-making mechanism or consent proxies that make decisions on our behalf.