The Global Commons of Data


Data platform companies (such as Facebook, Google, or Twitter) amass and process immense amounts of data that is generated by their users. These companies primarily use the data to advance their commercial interests, but there is a growing public dismay regarding the adverse and discriminatory impacts of their algorithms on society at large. The regulation of data platform companies and their algorithms has been hotly debated in the literature, but current approaches often neglect the value of data collection, defy the logic of algorithmic decision-making, and exceed the platform companies’ operational capacities.

This Article suggests a different approach—an open, collaborative, and incentives-based stance toward data platforms that takes full advantage of the tremendous societal value of user-generated data. It contends that this data shall be recognized as a “global commons,” and access to it shall be made available to a wide range of independent stakeholders—research institutions, journalists, public authorities, and international organizations. These external actors would be able to utilize the data to address a variety of public challenges, as well as observe from within the operation and impacts of the platforms’ algorithms.

After making the theoretical case for the “global commons of data,” the Article explores the practical implementation of this model. First, it argues that a data commons regime should operate through a spectrum of data sharing and usage modalities that would protect the commercial interests of data platforms and the privacy of data users. Second, it discusses regulatory measures and incentives that can solicit the collaboration of platform companies with the commons model. Lastly, it explores the challenges embedded in this approach.


Stanford University Stanford, CA
  • 22 STAN. TECH. L. REV. 354 (2019)
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