Data is being ‘hoarded,’ not commercialized

Loss of control and worries about leaks are behind the stockpiling of vast amounts of data that could be sold or morphed into products and services

Data is being ‘hoarded’ not commercialized, officials say

Data should be turned into a commodity, “similar to oil,” say experts.

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Massive amounts of data is being collected, but isn’t being used to generate business growth, says a public body that has recently completed funding a 2.5-year research project on the subject.

Big data should be used in an entrepreneurial way to create “profitable information-based products and services,” says British government agency Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in a press release.

At the moment, it’s just being “hoarded.”

“Fears of data leaks and of losing control are the key reasons,” the release explains. The data should, in fact, be shared or traded “openly and transparently,” or it should be developed as “products and services,” the study, performed on behalf of the agency by Imperial College Business School, concludes.

Data should be turned into a commodity, “similar to oil,” that would become “widely traded” and “growth-boosting,” the researchers say.

+ More on Network World: 5 key requirements of successful big data projects +

One of the problems of data exploitation relates to its ownership.

“It can't really be legally owned,” says Professor Aija Leiponen, associate professor at the U.K.-based school, in the release. “That makes companies very protective and secretive where their data assets are concerned.”

(Incidentally, I recently wrote about other work Leiponen has done. A study about low-income neighborhoods having worse cell phone service found there are fewer base stations in poor American neighborhoods.)

Worries about sensitive information being disclosed

Another worry, revealed in the study by Imperial College Business School, is that touchy data that’s been anonymized becomes un-anonymized, disclosing “sensitive information about the organizations where it originates,” explains Leiponen. Company secrets, in other words.

Better legal regulations and cheaper mechanisms for trade would help unlock the stockpiled data, the scientists say. In particular, the mechanisms should ensure private information isn’t revealed.

“Data is unlikely ever to become formal intellectual property in the same way as patented inventions or copyrighted content are,” Leiponen says.

But there may be ways of developing solutions, even with the ownership problem, the research suggests.

Blockchain-type technology could be one answer, the researchers propose. Blockchains—made famous by crypto-currency bitcoin—is a trusted, shared database using cryptography.

Using blockchain for data sales would allow transactions to occur without central authority—encryption and decryption handle that element. And in a data sharing sense, it could be used to track ownership of assets, perform transactions and enforce contracts.

When the researchers looked into how data trading takes place, they found a lack of standardization and copious use restrictions.

“Data trading is still in a turbulent phase with little standardization or alignment over terms and conditions,” Leiponen wrote in the report about the study

Much inalienability, where rights can’t be transferred, was discovered. They also found short license periods. And, as one might imagine, personal data services were the most restrictive overall. That’s also the kind of data lawmakers have given the most attention to, though.

“Data is still at the very early stages of commercialization,” Leiponen says. “The key objective must be to ensure that it can be turned into growth, prosperity and jobs.”

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