Data, Part 1: Resource or Responsibility?

This is a two-part mini-blog series on data for Institute for International Communication at St. John’s.

The first part is based on the  MyData 2017 conference (30 August – 1 September 2017 in Tallinn and Helsinki). I attended the conference as background research for a study on the project Ranking Digital Rights I’m conducting with Julia Theilen (primary researcher).

The second part will address data as a tool in implementing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, based on a related workshop at the UN Headquarters (19 September 2017).


MyData is an annual international conference for the industry, advocacy organizations, and researchers to study and discuss human-centric personal information management. A multi-stakeholder event, its contents reflect the complexity of the issue of data, even if the focus is on “my data”, personal information. The presentation sessions focused on consent for data use, insights for consumer behaviour, technical building blocks, roadmaps of data markets, ethics, and the global landscape. One key topic was the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of the European Union that will be enforced as at mid 2018, not the least because it will include salty penalties for data breaches as well as extra-territorial applicability beyond Europe.

The most interesting theme, however, was the role of data in our societies — and how that has changed in the past years. We still hear and read claims about “data being the new oil” (as in this article by the Economist from May 2017). This may be true for the internet giants but for lesser organizations and businesses the tide has turned. Data is a headache — in the sense that there is so much of it: it is hard to manage, and keep safe (as the recent Equifax case illustrates)  let alone effectively analyze. From the citizen-consumer’s perspective, not only are privacy issues challenging, but there are few efforts, for example apps, to coordinate all the data stored about an individual. This is a problem of updating some data, as well as knowing who knows what about you (your state, your bank, your employer, you gym…). Coupled with that is the fallacy that us as individuals couldn’t use our data; that it is “oil” only for governments and corporations.

MyData meetings have resulted in the first step to a more human-centric approach to data: The Declaration of MyData Principles. The declaration lists six action points: Human-centric control of personal data; individuals (rather than organizations) as the point of integration of data; individuals having agency, initiative and management rights of their data; portability of personal data from a context to another; transparency and accountability of the users of data; and interoperability, i.e., common practices and standards for businesses and other organizations in data use.

For more information on specific topics, you can access MyData presentations here, and videos of the sessions will be posted on the site in the near future. If interested, you view and can sign the MyData Declaration as an individual or for an organization, here.


{learning} The Art of Evaluation_#ICM820

We at #ICM820 course have discussed successful strategies of community-building as well as cases gone very wrong. But evaluating – quantitatively measuring and qualitatively assessing – successes is a tricky issue.

From a macro-level vantage point of societies and its institutions, we could ponder how to assess media systems (or, as many tend to say about the digital era of multiplicity, media ecosystems) work effectively, democratically, openly, and so on. I have collected some links to projects, ideas, and cases that aim at measuring media systems and media development from a global perspective.

The meso-level of organizations outlook would be to look at effectiveness of particular political, economic, social, etc. communities, organizations, or campaigns. Is it about eye-balls, likes/shares/follows, comments, retweets/repins etc.? Is it about the ratio between lurkers vs. active participants? Professionally, do we value media differently than we did before, in terms of it as an advertising distribution tool, a news source, a forum for debate, an entertainment source? Here are just some examples of the infinite amount of views on how to measure success and impact in the digital age:


Finally, at the micro – or individual – level: How do you (does one) measure a digital community? Usability, access, relevance, engagement/familiarity, security…?

As experts of digital communities, how do we balance structural/technological concerns, big data metrics, and individual experiences?

{research} Snowden Live @#PDF14

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I am taking part of the Personal Democracy Forum (#PDF14) in NYC. Edward Snowden is one of the first speakers, via Google+, honoring the NSA Leaks that he provided exactly one year ago.

In and of itself, this is a great example of the complexities of internet rights. Snowden can’t be here in person. His live image is presented by the tech that an organization that has a stake in the surveillance regime. Now that organization is part of the Reset the Net campaign and has launched a new encryption tool for gmail.

But his dialogue with John Berry Barlow of the EFF has turned even more basic — and profound — than I could have ever expected.

The core questions discussed are:

What are data, information, and knowledge? How do different stakeholders understand those terms? What can big data and metadata tell about us (as I mused before).

How do we weigh ‘security’ as a priority? As Barlow joked, for him, “security comes always 3rd”. This reminded me of the recent debate about “trigger warnings” and our obsession to be safe. Is it time to reconfigure our understanding what safety and security are? Zygmunt Bauman talked about the unholy trinity uncertainty, unsafety, and insecurity already while back, as the core definers of “liquid modernity”. How right he was.

And finally, the eternal question of who’s a change-maker, who makes a difference, who says: I have had enough. Snowden:

I didn’t do anything remarkable, I’m not particularly morally gifted. I did my civic duty. The reason that people don’t campaign against to solve these problems because they don’t see them.


Once again, it is about the change starting with the grassroots, people, developers of crypto, or whistle blowing, or… As Snowden’s ending words just stated, structures of power will need to bend when the conversations like those around the NSA start to happen en masse.

If you want to support Snowden’s legal defense, go to: