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Data Trusts Might Empower Consumers

Over the past couple of years experts have been pointing to ‘data trusts’ as a way to make a more democratic and fair infrastructure. Report after report have pointed to the need of trying this out. Despite wide endorsement of data trusts, there’s a lack of practical implementation, and yet another report urge us to implement tests and pilots to see if this is a way forward.

Consumer data trusts are intermediaries that aggregate consumers’ interests and represent them vis-à-vis data-using organizations. The German NGO Stiftung Neuer Verantwortung just put out a new report on data trust urging Europe to try it out.

Experts have endorsed the concept, for example the German Data Ethics Commission has recommended to ‘promote research and development in innovative data management and data trust schemes where individuals can control their data and empower themselves with data’ 

But according to the Stiftung report, few data trusts or similar organizations representing consumers’ interests in the data economy exist in practice. There are approaches like, who according to the report may alleviate some of the pain for consumers, but they don’t fix the underlying failures of data markets, because consumers are left with the burden of personal data management.

There seems to be three challenges for data trusts:

  • Aligning interests: How can we make sure that the interests of the trust are aligned with those of the individuals it represents?
  • Delegating consent: How can we make it easy for consumers to express their interests?
  • Enabling innovation: How can organizations be motivated to work with data trusts?

According to Aline Blankertz author of the report and leader of data economy at Stiftung New Verantwortung we must initiate real-world tests and pilots to determine whether data trusts really give power to consumers, to assert consumers’ interests in them, and how exactly they need to be designed for that purpose.

“Only then does it make sense to consider further steps, such as guidelines, regulation or other forms of legislation, for example, to make sure that also vulnerable consumers benefit from data trusts and firms cannot undermine them.”

If you are interested in this topic this report from the Canadian company is another really good read