UKRAINE – 2020/05/04: In this photo illustration a World Economic Forum logo seen displayed on a … [+]
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Countries have stock exchanges, commodities markets and various types of bourse systems to enable the formalized trading, pricing and exchange of corporate stocks, securities, goods and services. Although traditional commodities markets are likely to exist for many years to come (trading everything from tea to tin as they do), we’re now at a point on the digital evolution curve when data itself has become a marketable product, a tradeable entity and a thing of value.
Surely we need some kind of exchange system for data then?
If not exactly a data stock exchange, the World Economic Forum’s Data Flows Project attempts to provide a new level of formalization to some of the mechanisms behind the flow of data around the planet.
According to a June 2020 blog and whitepaper from the World Economic Forum (WEF) itself, “The Data Flows Project addresses issues related to regional data governance by aiming to support the development of cohesive policy frameworks and cross-border governance protocols, which can accelerate societal benefits and minimize adverse risks of data flows. This effort requires the establishment of trust between participating parties. Therefore, these frameworks incorporate trust mechanisms such as data privacy and security backstops.”
The rise of interoperable trustworthy data
What the WEF hopes to engender is a community-centric system that shares co-design practice ideas on building interoperable and trustworthy data policies. The organization recommends first piloting technologies before they are taken forward and scaled for size. It is also championing and advocating the responsible use of data.
Technology analysts talk about the doubling of global data in the period between 2018 and 2022. There is further talk of a further doubling between 2022 and 2025. But despite the undeniable growth and the WEF pointing out that an unprecedented amount of ‘data flows’ are flowing across borders and devices, it warns that the regulatory environment for data localization remains fractured.
“The more than 120 data privacy laws currently in place globally have created more uncertainty than ever before. Much of the data needed to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges lies siloed in both public and private sources, with an array of regulatory, commercial and social risks preventing the sharing of data, even for social good,” wrote an official source, as part of the organization’s Shaping the Future of Technology Governance: Data Policy Platform initiative.
Pioneers on the wild frontier of data
Among the commercial concerns contributing to the WEF Data Flows Project is French company Dawex. Known for its data marketplace platform – which allows enterprises to trade their obfuscated datasets with other firms who can benefit from analyzing the shape and form (if not the actual value) of data flows – Dawex has been named a Technology Pioneer by the WEF’s governing body.
“We are very honored — it confirms data exchanges are playing a central role in today’s global economy,” said Laurent Lafaye, Dawex co-CEO. “Being invited to join the WEF Data Policy work group is an acknowledgment of the importance of the Dawex mission to create the conditions for the smooth development of the data economy by facilitating the exchange of data between companies and organizations.”
Onboarded on a two-year program, WEF Technology Pioneers are involved in the design, development and deployment of new technologies and innovations. Dawex joins policymakers and private sector leaders to help define the global agenda on key data issues. Previous companies given this label include Airbnb, Google, Kickstarter, Mozilla, Spotify, Twitter and Wikimedia.
Data sans frontiers
The effort here is designed to help data move across borders more easily, where appropriate governance controls are still in place. The WEF argues that the true scope of data-intensive technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) will fail to be fully realized without this enablement. The organization argues that much of the friction data experiences is based on mis-perceptions i.e. when it it perceived that data is better protected in one location, or that data localization maximizes value for local populations.
According to the WEF, “Regulatory differences across countries cannot be eradicated. They are necessary and appropriate. But there is a clear need for interoperable frameworks that can map requirements across borders and create mechanisms to reduce regulatory overload.”
Data flow models to the rescue?
This project has several workstreams. One is focused on developing regionally based legally-interoperable data flow models (models of this kind exist in the European Union (EU) and in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) zone.
The second is based not on horizontal geographical alignment and collaboration, but on vertical subject matter focus (so, for example, it could feature a coming together of data flows that exist inside one particular industry, or perhaps one particular kind of professional service). Both will be used to create new approaches for developing regions of the world where technology investment may be comparatively low, but increasing.
“While holistic interoperability is the goal, we can begin by identifying a specific problem area, such as research in rare diseases, to create data-sharing frameworks specific to a clearly beneficial use case. These use cases include humanitarian uses of cross-border data and research-based examples in healthcare,” noted the WEF.
Arguably the most interesting aspects of this story are a) the need to create new ‘waterways’ for data flows (perhaps we’ll start using one word and saying dataflows soon) to be able to traverse the planet and b) the fact that companies like Dawex are now creating virtual data marketplaces where the produce on sale is data that enterprise organizations can buy at varying levels of visibility.
The secret to a great food dish is usually the quality of the ingredients, if quality data is the liquid stock for successful modern business… then we had better get to the market and see what looks fresh and tasty.