Bottom-Up Data Trusts: Disturbing the ‘One Size Fits All’ Approach to Data Governance
This article proceeds from an analysis of the very particular type of vulnerability concomitant with our ‘leaking’ data on a daily basis, to show that data ownership is both unlikely and inadequate as an answer to the problems at stake. We also argue that the current construction of top-down regulatory constraints on contractual freedom is both necessary and insufficient. To address the particular type of vulnerability at stake, bottom-up empowerment structures are needed. The latter aim to ‘give a voice’ to data subjects whose choices when it comes to data governance are often reduced to binary, ill-informed consent. While the rights granted by instruments like the GDPR can be used as tools in a bid to shape possible data-reliant futures—such as better use of natural resources, medical care, etc, their exercise is both demanding and unlikely to be as impactful when leveraged individually. As a bottom-up governance structure that is uniquely capable of taking into account the vulnerabilities outlined in the first section, we highlight the constructive potential inherent in data Trusts. This potential crosses the traditional boundaries between individualist protection concerns on one hand and collective empowerment aspirations on the other.