Estimated reading time 8 min

The move to a fair data economy requires co-operation and the active involvement of individuals

Value-based rules reinforce trust in both companies and consumers. How can we create a set of shared rules and governance models that fulfil the criteria set out in the European Commission’s latest communique, and take into account the European values and on conflicting needs? Let’s start with research, values and the individual’s perspective.



In its document Shaping Europe’s Digital Future, the European Commission describes a future in which companies have the necessary framework to collect and use data, innovate and compete or co-operate under fair conditions. The commission feels that digital dividends should be distributed more equally than they have been in the past.

Additionally, the communique demands that rules such as consumer protection regulations should also be applied to online services. Consumers must be able to trust digital products and services as much as they do other products and services.

Consumers must be able to trust digital products and services as much as they do other products and services.

The EC’s communication states that “clearer rules on the transparency, behaviour and accountability of those who act as gatekeepers to information and data flows are needed, as is effective enforcement of existing rules.” How are these rules created, how are they tested and what kind of monitoring of them should there be?

One approach is to start by defining common principles. The principles of the European data economy, created with Finland’s lead, were published in Helsinki at the High-Level Conference on Data Economy in November 2019. These principles guide the data economy in a more human-centric and balanced direction, addressing the availability and sharing of data, the agency of individuals, innovation, trust and learning. Easing the free movement of data is an important part of furthering the digitisation of the EU single market. The goal is to make Europe the global pioneer of ethical data use. The principles aid the creation of a common goal, but in practice the perspective of the individual and the human focus are often easily overlooked.

Ethics researchers Tuukka Lehtiniemi and Minna Ruckenstein write in their column (in Finnish) on MyData that “the advocates of MyData have effectively demonstrated the necessity of a focus on humans in the structures of data economy. At the same time, however, what human focus means can be interpreted quite broadly. For citizens, it can mean equal participation in digital society and, for companies, it can mean a way to access the material held by data giants via the individual. What, for one player, can mean the protection of all digital rights can, for another, mean an opportunity to offer services that protect privacy to those who can afford them. The human focus becomes something of a Rorschach test in which actors see whatever the issues are that they want to advance.”

There are sufficient ethical guidelines and codes

The University of Turku has been focusing on the ethical perspective of the IHAN fair data economy project and carrying out research into the values upon which the European fair data economy model is based. According to their research, the basis for the European fair data economy model is balancing the power of different stakeholders, that is, rebuilding the trust between the individual and other stakeholders that has been eroded by data leaks. The goal is to ensure the rights of the individual as they are laid down in the General Data Protection Regulation General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Regulation (EU) 2016/679, the European Union’s ("EU") new General Data Protection Regulation ("GDPR"), regulates the processing by an individual, a company or an organisation of personal data relating to individuals in the EU. Open term page General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and simultaneously enable the free movement of information within Europe.

“Distrust and its consequences – limitations on data sharing and the distortion of data – can endanger data gathering and the entire basis of the data economy.”
– Jani Koskinen, University of Turku

The researchers note that authorities, companies, researchers and representatives of different occupational groups have already developed a number of ethical codes and recommendations regarding self-regulation, such as:

They also draw attention to a recurring problem: the perspective of the individual as an active participant is absent. Individuals are seen as subjects whose positions are to be protected. Codes do not give agency to individuals, and individuals are not included in the development and adoption processes of codes. Instead, professionals and technocrats decide for them.

From principle to practice

According to the researchers, research into value creation models in data ecosystems Data ecosystem Several data networks can form a data ecosystem, “a network of networks”, in which the members collaborate with each other to share and use data, as well as to boost innovation and new businesses. Open term page Data ecosystem and data economies Data economy An area of the economy where the collection and use of data are a key part of activities. Open term page Data economy is still young, and there is no unified terminology. It is impossible to have a broad social or ethical dialogue because discussions about digitisation and data are laden with technical language. The lack of a research tradition also makes defining the management model difficult. At its simplest, the management model contains the organisation structures, business processes and management rules and principles.

A management model for a fair data economy is created through co-operation and testing of new services in data networks.

Platform economy management models have a strong central figure or body that acts autonomously as the data holder, standardiser and service developer. In decentralised ecosystems, there are several powerful organisations who gain added value from operating in the network. The degree of interdependence has increased. How can we build a management model for a data economy ecosystem made up of several data networks? How can we increase the diversity of data networks in such a way that smaller actors also benefit from the data economy?

A new take on old doctrines

The work on management models in the IHAN project is still in its infancy. Scenario planning has been used to try to create a picture of the future shape of the data economy in 2025. We have already benefited from the skills and knowledge of a large group of experts and researchers. The report of the Research Institute of the Finnish Economy (ETLA) examined value creation in data sharing. Researchers at the University of Turku participated in the project by analysing our citizen and business surveys. We have sought out expertise by co-operating with an organisation that specialises in sustainable business practices, Finnish Business & Society (FIBS). Data liability is only now being emerging on the agenda at forward-looking companies in the form of their data strategies and annual data protection statements.

MyData MyData The term MyData refers to: 1) a new approach, a paradigm shift in personal data management and processing that seeks to transform the current organisation-centric system to a human-centric system; 2) personal data as a resource that the individual can access and control. Personal data that is not under the respective individual’s own control cannot be called MyData. Open term page MyData , a human focus and our European value base challenge us to take into account the perspective of the individual and the ethical perspective. An ethical management model for a fair data economy ecosystem must be built out of these elements. We must be able to define fairness and create criteria for it – criteria that can also be followed in practice. The development of a management model includes two central documents that strive to reach a consensus about how fairness would be achieved in practice.

  • The IHAN Blueprint defines the technical and operational requirements of a data ecosystem.
  • The IHAN Rulebook generally defines the legal, ethical, business, technical and administrative rules that participating organisations must follow when sharing data in a network.

In an as yet unpublished study, Jani Koskinen and his team propose an ethical, human-centric management model for data economy ecosystems. They combine the data and business ecosystems and define a data ecosystem as follows: “A data economy ecosystem is a network formed by ecosystem organisations for whom data is the main source or object of their business. Actors and stakeholders form a network directly and through value chains. The data economy ecosystem also has official or unofficial rules that govern activities in the ecosystem”.

Even a network-like data economy ecosystem requires a management structure to function. The mission of the network’s steering group is to unify the goals of different stakeholders and monitor adherence to the rules. How is the steering group formed, and how can the inclusion of a perspective on the individual in the management of the ecosystem be ensured?

There are still many unanswered questions, and work to create an ethical management model will continue for a long time to come. What is needed is even closer cross-sectoral co-operation, multidisciplinary expertise and practical trials in data networks associated with new digital services. More than anything else, defining a human-centric data economy requires human-centric service planning.

In this series of articles, we highlight perspectives that our experts feel deserve further research and practical testing in order to bring humans to the fore of the prevailing data economy model.

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