Guest writer
Estimated reading time 4 min

Emerging from behind the smokescreen and moving towards a transparent and fair data economy

In a data economy, trust is earned with transparency and respect for people. For companies, this is a competitive advantage, not a restriction.


Jani Koskinen

Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Turku, Turku School of Economics, Information Systems Science


Autonomy – an individual’s independence and their ability to make decisions about matters concerning themselves – is a key value both in philosophy and in actions that emphasise respect for the individual. The realisation of autonomy in a data economy requires transparency. However, it appears that this transparency is missing and there seems to be no will to fix the situation, let alone any interest in doing so.

The current networked world, and in particular the business conducted in it, can be described by the word “smokescreen”. If you think about all the data that is collected about you, used and distributed, it is fairly certain that you cannot grasp or describe it clearly. At the same time, you hear news about the misuse of data and notice that online advertisements magically correspond to your recent web searches. It is easy to think that you are simply an object to be used for someone’s benefit. I’m sad to say that this perception of the current state of affairs is correct!

Do we need to content ourselves with a model of forced trust?

The current data economy is based on collecting as much data about you as possible and converting this data into raw material for companies’ business operations. Despite efforts to rein this in with legislation (such as the General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR), it seems that the situation has not really improved – instead, individuals have lost control over their data in a networked world.

The problem is that the individual does not have any real chance to control how their data is spread unless they make the radical decision to stop using online services entirely. Nowadays, this is not a reasonable, or even possible, option for many. So, we have lost our online autonomy and simply have to trust that our data is not misused, without any adequate opportunity to ensure this. In his doctoral dissertation, Antti Hakkala described this phenomenon very accurately as forced trust. We have to trust because we have no other option!

The game is not lost. New operating models can create a fair data economy for all of us.

So, have we lost our autonomy for good? I refuse to believe so. I believe that we can change the situation with legislation and new operating models.

In the Sitra’s IHAN project, the key term in a data economy is “human-driven”. A human-driven data economy Human-driven data economy A model that recognises the importance of people and their needs as being fundamental to the working of a data economy. Individuals are not seen as mere objects from which to gather information but instead as active participants whose individual and legitimate needs are respected and heard in the data economy field. Open term page Human-driven data economy means that an individual is not just a faceless source of data serving the interests of financial profit but an active participant among other active participants. According to a survey that Sitra conducted among individuals, the requirements for a fair data economy include safety, control over one’s own data, privacy and clarity, among other things. All this requires transparency.

If we can create a new data economy ecosystem that is based on transparency and respect for the individual, we can regain our online autonomy. This would also benefit business operations as people’s trust in responsible operators could be perceived as a competitive advantage, not a restriction. Personally, I would be more willing to share more data with those operators who I can trust and who openly explain the use of my data in a manner that is easy for me to understand.

This is a challenge related to a fair data economy that all people and responsible companies should work to tackle. We must require that those collecting data about us operate transparently and respect individuals. Otherwise, we are heading towards a future in which people are solely regarded as a herd of data cattle to be milked dry!

#IHAN #dataeconomy #GDPR

Sitra’s guest blogs give a voice to the players of the future in different fields. They do not necessarily directly link to Sitra’s work or agenda, but are the authors’ thoughts on current issues that relate to the themes Sitra is passionate about. Jani Koskinen is postdoctoral researcher at University of Turku, Turku School of Economics.

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