Data Futures

Research to shift power through data governance


What is a data cooperative?

#co-owned #purposeful #value

A data cooperative is a legal construct to facilitate the collaborative pooling of data by individuals or organisations for the economic, social or cultural benefit of the group. The entity that holds the data is often co-owned and democratically controlled by its members. Worldwide, dozens of platform cooperatives have been formed in recent years in direct opposition to major Silicon Valley platforms (say, for instance, FairBnB as an alternative to AirBnB) but only a subset of them are also data cooperatives. One example is Driver’s Seat, a cooperative of on-demand drivers who gather their own combined driving data in an app to gain insights that are usually kept secret by employers like Uber. When Driver’s Seat sells mobility data to city agencies they share profits with drivers. In this way, cooperatives can shift power to data subjects, who typically have very few rights in mainstream ventures. From personal concerns (like privacy or labor rights) to societal concerns (like gentrification or market monopolies) cooperatives clearly offer opportunities for channeling discontent into alternatives that serve the platform economy. Resonate, for example, is a cooperative online music network where listeners, musicians, labels and staff share profits from streaming and downloads using blockchain technology for music metadata, licensing and payments. Instead of secrecy and proprietary control, innovators of data cooperatives aim for clarity and openness around the value of data along with new paths for communal governance. That doesn’t mean that cooperatives are always governed the same way. Since long before the internet, many countries have known cooperatives to be effective, for instance in the banking or agricultural sectors. But jurisdictions everywhere differ on what kind of cooperatives can be created, for what purpose and which stakeholders. Software plays an integral role too, with many data collaboratives founded around apps for data collection or analysis to either serve the purpose of one cooperative or to enable others to meet theirs. In fact, offering alternatives to corporate cloud infrastructure to cooperatives is one purpose a number of software developers appear to be drawn to as cooperatives themselves: Collective Tools, FairApps, and CommonsCloud are just a few. Data cooperatives are governed by legal or fiduciary obligations agreed to by all, in order to benefit members individually, and empower members collectively. They have potential to help redress power inequities posed by ‘big data’ though democratizing governance of data at scale certainly presents challenges too.

Reaping the benefits of patient insights as a cooperative

Savvy Coop in the United States is a platform for patients to share their personal insights and experiences with companies and get paid fairly. Members are co-owners of the enterprise with voting power, and they choose themselves with whom to share information. Their mission is to improve health care and patient services through inclusive and collaborative design (breaking with a tradition in the health sector of developing products without speaking to patients first). As the steward of the cooperative, Savvy is legally required to operate in the best interests of patients. Further, they say that the majority of their profits are shared directly with members.

Literature reviewed for this section

This is part of a broader movement for a healthy internet. See more.