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Communications of the ACM

ACM Opinion

Everyone Should Decide How Their Digital Data Is Used—Not Just Tech Cos.


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Everyone should decide how their digital data are used

Representatives from academic associations and government bodies should form an interdisciplinary working group to develop policy for the creation of public data trusts. Computational social scientists must play their part as public stewards of an important collective resource for knowing ourselves and our societies.

Most of the data available to—or sought by—computational social scientists today is generated to answer questions that have nothing to do with their research. The data instead bears the mark of its original purpose, be that targeted advertisements or personalized insurance premiums.

The current model, in which the digital traces of our lives are monopolized by corporations, threatens the ability of society to produce the rigorous, independent research needed to tackle pressing issues. It also restricts what information can be accessed and the questions that can be asked. This limits progress in understanding complex phenomena, from how vaccine coverage alters behaviour to how algorithms influence the spread of misinformation.


 

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