Conference report: When doing data right is wrong

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Doing Data Right is a challenging concept because ‘doing it right’ in one sense might mean not ‘doing it right’ in another.

Jarmo Eskelinen, head of the Data Driven Innovation (DDI) programme, raised this and other tough questions in his introduction to the conference.

With funding secured, 14 DDI projects are in the pipeline, and Eskelinen noted: “We need volume to make Edinburgh the data capital of Europe.”

He continued: “Doing Data Right is not an answer, it’s a question. In a way, it’s a contradiction because doing data right in one way might mean not doing it right in another way. It’s our job to study the contradictory aspects and understand how we balance them so we can do data ‘kinda right’, which is probably the best we can hope for.”

Eskelinen stated that the challenge of speed meant we needed more agile ways to figure out how we work with data and the big questions it poses.

“One big issue is data ownership,” he said. “A monopoly is bad for society but good for big business.

“What about data control? In theory, we can control our data now but we sign contracts we don’t read, and tick the box for cookies and Terms & Conditions. Can we have a toolbox to allow us to manage our data to give us different levels of control – and a sovereign identity [sovereign data profile] to use across multiple providers?”

In terms of data ethics, Eskelinen said it was necessary to work in public/private partnerships and to consider a whole range of ethical considerations: “That’s tricky to manage. Innovating and looking after your data is not easy to balance. The triangle of innovation, regulation and privacy is very difficult. Sometimes the best approach is to be pragmatic.”