Data for Good: Unlocking Privately-Held Data to the Benefit of the Many

9 European Journal of Risk Regulation 2 (2018)

11 Pages Posted: 12 Jun 2018 Last revised: 7 Jul 2018

Date Written: June 11, 2018


It is almost a truism to argue that data holds a great promise of transformative resources for social good, by helping to address a complex range of societal issues, ranging from saving lives in the aftermath of a natural disaster to predicting teen suicides. Yet it is not public authorities who hold this real-time data, but private entities, such as mobile network operators and business card companies, and - with even greater detail - tech firms such as Google through its globally-dominant search engine, and, in particular, social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. Besides a few isolated and self-proclaimed ‘data philanthropy’ initiatives and other corporate data-sharing collaborations, data-rich companies have historically shown resistance to not only share this data for the public good, but also to identify its inherent social, non-commercial benefit. How to explain to citizens across the world that their own data - which has been aggressively harvested over time - can’t be used, and not even in emergency situations? Responding to this unsettling question entails a fascinating research journey for anyone interested in how the promises of big data could deliver for society as a whole. In the absence of a plausible solution, the number of societal problems that won’t be solved unless firms like Facebook, Google and Apple start coughing up more data-based evidence will increase exponentially, as well as societal rejection of their underlying business models.

This article identifies the major challenges of unlocking private-held data to the benefit of society and sketches a research agenda for scholars interested in collaborative and regulatory solutions aimed at unlocking privately-held data for good.

Keywords: Big data, data, data governance, data sharing, data risk, data invisible, risk governance, philanthropy,

JEL Classification: K23, K32, K40, I18

Suggested Citation

Alemanno, Alberto, Data for Good: Unlocking Privately-Held Data to the Benefit of the Many (June 11, 2018). 9 European Journal of Risk Regulation 2 (2018), Available at SSRN: or

Alberto Alemanno (Contact Author)

HEC Paris - Tax & Law ( email )

1 rue de la Libération
Jouy-en-Josas Cedex, 78351

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