What do we mean by the terms we use?
We acknowledge that understandings of even the most common terms in this field vary.
The following definitions are in use by the Data Futures Lab. They reflect our aims to rebalance power by unlocking the benefits of data for communities and society, while upholding data rights and enabling individual agency. Mozilla’s values are rooted in over two decades of open innovation and advocacy for a healthier internet and ‘people over profit’. We are guided by our manifesto and commitments to lean data, privacy and security. This greater body of work shapes our thoughts and aspirations for data futures and trustworthy AI.
This term refers to the rules and processes for how data is collected, accessed, controlled, used or shared in any given context, including in everyday consumer technologies, products and services. How data is ‘governed’ describes who has power to make decisions over data and how.
Alternative Data Governance
Here, the word ‘alternative’ is rooted in a critique of the current norms and for digital products where technology companies assume all power over data for commercial gain, typically extracting vast amounts of data via broken models of consent. ‘Alternative data governance’ refers to rules and processes that instead shift power from data collectors to data subjects; that create meaningful incentives for the benefits of data to be shared between various parties; and that enable data to serve individual or collective interests grounded in human rights, data rights and consumer rights.
Examples: Data Cooperatives, Data Commons, Data Collaboratives, Data Trusts, Data Fiduciaries, Indigenous Data Sovereignty, Data Marketplaces.
In order to unlock the benefits of data for individuals or communities, various alternative data governance approaches extend powers to an intermediary ‘steward’ who manages data (rights) on behalf of beneficiaries within a consent based structure and towards a defined goal. Such governance approaches would usually be based on a legal framework and can be of participatory nature, based on fiduciary relationships, or they can be contractual or based on codes of practice. The incentives for data stewards can vary.
In the context of the Data Futures Lab, builders are individual founders, developers, organizations or companies who design and develop technologies and initiatives that make use of alternative data governance models to unlock the value of data for individuals, communities and society.
In the context of the Data Futures Lab, supporting entities are those who seek to expand the capacity of builders to implement alternative data governance projects at scale. They may research or advocate for data rights policies, offer legal support, fund, convene communities, and provide design and technological frameworks or standards to be used in products.
Who benefits from alternative data governance? It depends on the goals and definitions of a particular initiative. Beneficiaries could be data subjects themselves, or a community or society at large. Beneficiaries could see value from data that unlocks scientific discoveries, environmental or labor rights, or more advanced access and control over personal data. Financial gain could be a benefit too, but our key priority is to rebalance power over data.
Mozilla’s work on Trustworthy AI refers to “consumer technology” as a core focus and the term also appears in our writings for the Data Futures Lab. By this, we mean general purpose internet products and services aimed at broad audiences. This includes everything from products and services of social media platforms, search engines, and gig work apps, to smart home devices and wearables, to e-commerce, algorithmic lending and hiring platforms.
The terms above appear in research and writings of the Data Futures Lab. We welcome you to contact Mozilla's Insights team with feedback or suggestions for collaboration.