Mozilla launched the Data Futures Lab last fall to help shift the power that big technology companies gain by harvesting data back to the communities from which it derives. The consolidation of power and wealth gained by the extraction of data is ensured by current data “governing” models. But what if people remained in control of their data’s value and use? What if collective models for data use existed to help make that so? The goal of the Lab is to connect and fund creators around the world who are working to make that idea a reality.
Now, we are thrilled to welcome Champika Fernando, who will guide this critical new initiative as our Data Futures Lab Lead.
Champika has been working at the intersection of technology, community, and creativity for many years, first at Google, then at the MIT Media Lab, and most recently with the Scratch Foundation, where they were the interim Executive Director. Scratch is an open-source editor used by more than 200 million young people who have come together to create an alternative vision for what the internet can be: a global online community that supports and values creativity and collaboration rather than consumption.
During those years, Champika wore many different hats, from engineer, researcher, product manager, and program designer to outreach director and fundraiser. Their work across these roles and across industry, academia, and nonprofit spaces has allowed them to understand the forces shaping our current data economy, for better or for worse, and what needs to be improved moving forward. It has also given them a deep appreciation for how people with radically different ideas, skills, and perspectives can join forces to create true systems change -- and how to facilitate that kind of collaboration.
Right now, people around the globe are thinking about data sovereignty, autonomy, collective action, and purpose. The Data Futures Lab was created to help us all join forces -- and as someone who values technology that is built in the open, driven by community, and puts people before profits, Champika is a perfect fit to guide it. As more people begin to recognize the problematic ethics and power dynamics within the current data economy, Champika believes the Data Futures Lab can play a crucial role in providing the resources and support needed to imagine and build more equitable and just alternatives. For all of these reasons and more, we’re excited to have Champika leading the Lab.
Earlier this year, the Data Futures Lab awarded its first round of grants, totaling $300,000, to three projects that take novel approaches to data stewardship in the realms of activism, labor, and consumer rights. SignalBoost, a messaging app that provides encrypted broadcasts and hotlines to activists, organizers, and other vulnerable populations, will use the grant to scale the app and work on usability and community building, among other improvements. Platform Info Exchange, a nonprofit trade union for U.K. drivers who use app-based services like Uber, will launch a class-action access request, paving the way for a worker-led data trust. Consumer Reports, the well-known consumer advocacy nonprofit, will develop a tool to help consumers easily see what data companies hold about them.