Are Third-Party Data Intermediaries a Potential Solve to Our Privacy Concerns?

Current data collection models are fraught with issues of consent, transparency, and trust. Most consumers aren’t empowered to make meaningful decisions about how their data is used or shared, which leads to a lack of trust between consumers and the technological companies who serve them. But a newly published paper, written by lead author Anne Josephine Flanagan of the World Economic Foundation along with her co-authors from the Task Force on Data Intermediaries, Advancing Digital Agency: The Power of Data Intermediaries suggests that third-party data intermediaries may be a solution to this rift.

The goal of establishing data intermediaries would be “to build third parties with a set of fiduciary duties to benefit data rights holders, whether they be individuals and their personal data, businesses, or even the public sector” (King, 2022). This would give people meaningful rights over their data and with it greater capability to choose how and when their data is shared. The intermediary would simply learn people’s data sharing preferences and share their data with companies accordingly.

Data intermediaries could take many forms ranging from data trusts to personalized digital agents. The paper explores digital agents in particular because of the great opportunities and risks they pose. The digital agent, or AI, would learn a person’s sharing preferences and autonomously make data sharing decisions based on those preferences. While this would take a great deal of burden off of individuals who don’t have the time to make constant data sharing decisions, the AI would have to be sound enough to accurately represent their stakeholder’s permissioning preferences across a wide range of sectors.

Regardless of the form it would take, the intermediary’s responsibility would be “managing access (likely through licensing arrangements) to that data in a manner that reflects the priorities and value of the data subjects” (King, 2022).

Data intermediaries would not only benefit individuals, however. Because companies would be requesting, rather than automatically acquiring, their data streams, they would have free license to collect the types of data they’re interested in without fear of violating data protection laws. Or as Anne Flanagan, the lead author, said: the goal of data intermediaries is “to improve rights for people, and simultaneously to de-risk and improve certainty for companies and organizations that need access to data” (Kaye, 2022).

In an era in which users often have so little control over their data, we love the idea of data intermediaries whose role is to protect and represent the user. We’ve found in our own research that while consumers want to be more empowered when it comes to their data, they often lack the time to manage it. In this regard, data intermediaries are an excellent solution.

Resources

Flanagan, A. J., & Warren, S., et al. (2022, February). Advancing Digital Agency: The Power of Data Intermediaries. World Economic Forum. https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Advancing_towards_Digital_Agency_2022.pdf

Kaye, K. (2022, February 16). What data privacy could look like in the metaverse. Protocol. https://www.protocol.com/enterprise/data-privacy-intermediaries-metaverse-web3

King, J. (2022, February 16). Advancing the Case for Data Intermediaries. Stanford HAI. https://hai.stanford.edu/news/advancing-case-data-intermediaries

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Culture, Behavior, and Virtual Reality @theextendedmind

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Jessica Outlaw

Jessica Outlaw

Culture, Behavior, and Virtual Reality @theextendedmind

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