Data 2020: Data rights and ownership

Fri Feb 21, 2020
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Can we own data about us?  The debate between ownership and rights is not as straightforward as it seems

Data 2020: Data rights and ownership

Data rights and ownership is one of the key areas we’ve identified in our Data 2020 landscape review to help organisations understand hot topics in the world of data in 2020 – from digital competition to data rights

Can we own data about us? Can we sell access to data that isn’t just about us but about others? Are enhanced rights and responsibilities the key to greater control over how data about us is used? The debate between ownership and rights is not as straightforward as it seems.

While policymakers have long assumed there is a naivety or lack of interest from the public about data issues, we have found people are increasingly concerned with how data about them is used. People want to feel in control and not just be resigned to poor or harmful use of data about them. But they don’t always have the language to explain their concerns or enthusiasm.

The idea that we can own data about us is gaining traction in some quarters – but it may not be that simple. Data can be about multiple people; for example DNA about you is also about your family. If we started to ‘sell’ data about ourselves, what impact could this have on others related to or like us?

We have a wealth of rights and responsibilities over data, which if enforced already provide controls over how data about us is used. How can these data rights, built around individuals, be adapted to recognise the rights of groups, communities and societies?

Data rights may need to vary as they reflect how societies view the relationship between individuals, communities, corporations and the state. Data regulations and policies need to change as technologies evolve, and as our expectations of data maintainers and publishers – and ourselves as data consumers and producers – change too.

  • International differences in narratives and ways of thinking about personal data
  • Public participation in decisions about uses of data
  • Personal data stores and other technologies that provide controls over data
  • Personal data representatives and data institutions for delegating decisions about data
  • The role of data rights and regulations in international trade

This is not an exhaustive list of resources. If you provide tools or resources in this topic, please let us know by emailing

  • Information Commissioner’s Office
  • Open Data Institute
  • Privacy International
  • The Royal Society

This is not an exhaustive list of all organisations working in this area. If your organisation is working on this topic and you’d like to be included in this list, please let us know via

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