David Donaldson: The Europeans harnessing personal data for public purpose — on their own terms

The private sector has been quick to harness the value of personal data, often without much customer consent. A new project is looking at how citizens can regain control over their data and use it for public value.

In the early days the internet held out huge promise as a new frontier for democratic participation and freedom — a decentralised network open to all, a place of endless possibilities.

Yet while it has had all sorts of positive impacts on self-expression and transparency, like many lightly regulated markets the internet has also come to be dominated by a few large companies.

Citizens are increasingly questioning the bargain that fuelled the rise of Google and Facebook — the service is free and the company keeps your data, to use with few restrictions.

It’s become a big business — Facebook’s average revenue per user in the US and Canada was $62 in 2016.

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What if the power of linked data could be harnessed for a social purpose?

A new project, called DECODE (DEcentralised Citizen-owned Data Ecosystems), is an experimental project to enable practical alternatives to how we manage our personal data and interact on the internet. With funding from the European Union, it will develop technology that puts people in control of their personal data, giving them the ability to decide how it is shared.

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