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How does international competition and collaboration affect international data flows? This research project aims to inform thinking around the consequences that competition and collaboration can have on data sharing. We aim to better understand how and why organisations and governments attempt to influence the flows of data within global data ecosystems, and the consequences of these efforts.

There is a growing realisation of the power imbalances within the global data ecosystem. Some organisations and governments have become prominent players with significant influence – and this can have serious consequences when they exploit their positions of power and exert influence over those who rely on them. This is contrary to the original, utopian idea of the internet – where power would be broadly spread throughout the network, rather than concentrated in the hands of a few.

One of the earliest and most notable examples is the pressure leveraged on internet companies by the US government in an attempt to disrupt the operations of WikiLeaks, following the whistleblowing site’s publication of classified US diplomatic cables. More recently, we have witnessed certain tech companies attempting to overtly exert their market dominance to influence legislation. In both instances, we can see some of the potential consequences of organisations and governments using their influence within global data ecosystems as tools of coercive diplomacy.

At the Open Data Institute (ODI), we are particularly interested in exploring how open data, and data sharing more generally, may lead some organisations and governments to become dependent on others. While sharing data and making data open can be beneficial, we are increasingly seeing concerns arise around uneven sharing and access.

We will investigate how organisations and governments are positioned in the global data sharing ecosystem, and where concentrations of influence and power exist within this landscape. We will use existing tools, such as the ODI’s own data ecosystem mapping, while applying emerging analytical research lenses such as surveillance capitalism, network effects and weaponized interdependence. Through these activities, we hope to focus our understanding of how organisations and governments interact within global data networks and how their actions can affect data flows.

This research will run until March 2023, and may inform future research. Throughout this project, we will consider how this research can inform our own practices, tools and positions. We will also work in parallel with external partners from academia and industry.

Read our provocations – published as part of our series on critical data infrastructure

Read this blogpost which focuses on those who own (and invest in) the physical infrastructure holding the internet together

This blogpost looks to the skies to discuss the new space race to control how we stay connected

Related reports

This report, emerging from ODI’s Power and diplomacy in data ecosystems  project, sets out the findings of research unpacking the stakes and challenges related to what we came to consider as ‘critical data infrastructure’, namely the physical architecture enabling the internet and our societies to function.

Read the report

Get in touch

If this project sounds like something of interest to you or your organisation, we’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch with us at: [email protected]