Responsible Data Forum on Private Sector Data Sharing

/ August 25, 2014

This post is crossposted at Global Pulse and Data & Society Research Institute.


On July 24th, approximately 30 experts from private sector, academia, civil society, law, and philanthropy convened in New York for a Responsible Data Forum on the topic of private sector data sharing for the public good.

The topic of “data philanthropy” is ripe for exploration and interrogation, as more and more private and public sector organizations are realizing the value of opening or sharing datasets for scientific research, civic hackathons, or to support the work of social impact organizations. Meanwhile, the need for improved privacy standards for such data has been reinforced by recent national and international security revelations, as well as the public reaction to Facebook’s news feed experiment.

Participants of the forum arrived ready to explore the ethical, privacy and safety dimensions of private sector data sharing by discussing their own experiences, opportunities and challenges. To fuel the conversation, the forum began with a deep dive into three case studies in which several forward-thinking companies shared their own experiences “opening” data for public benefit.

  • Orange SA, the French telecom company discussed the experience of conceiving of and organizing two “Data 4 Development Challenges” in which de-identified mobile phone datasets from Côte d’Ivoire, and Senegal, have been made available for analysis by research teams.
  • BBVA, the multinational Spanish banking group, discussed their experience hosting “Innova Challenge,” a contest in which anonymized and aggregated bank card transaction data was made available to developers from all over the world to build applications, services and content.
  • Real Impact, a Brussels-based analytics company, discussed their experiences making mobile data available for research collaborations with two universities and with UN Global Pulse.

Several themes emerged and participants asked questions based on the practical experiences shared for further discussion: How were these company-sponsored initiatives funded or supported? What were the strategies for advocating for data sharing within a large organization? Were techniques used for de-identifying personal data, and guidelines set out for ensuring data handlers (researchers, or participants in a challenge) did not abuse or re-use the data for unintended purposes? What are the merits of hosting an open challenge versus working with few trusted partners for research or innovation efforts? Were the data producers kept informed throughout the process, or made aware of the social value of their data? Is “opting-out” a viable option, and who can afford to do so?

The afternoon was spent in breakout groups delving into topics such as governance structures, incentives, ethical standards, political contexts and anonymization. Participants used these discussions to identify some tools and practices that might help safely expand the practice of data philanthropy.


Finally, we began to design and prototype tools that might meet the identified gaps. One group worked on a “starter kit” (or “how-to guide”) for private sector companies aiming to open up access to their data. Another group began mapping the private sector data sharing landscape, gathering additional case studies from the field. And other groups began researching ethical standards, including models from other sectors; developing a safety ranking system and “taxonomy of harms” related to data sharing; and pooling resources around appropriate anonymization.

We will soon be posting a working paper to share learnings from the event, and to spur further discussion in the community of data sharing stakeholders. Many of the forum’s breakout groups have continued conversations, and so we also expect to share progress via blog posts and other communications over the coming months.

The next “Responsible Data Forum is being held from September 30th to October 1st 2014 in Budapest, bringing together global advocates to review and share learnings from the past several forums, refine the tools and strategies in development, identify gaps and keep building cross-sector alliances. If you’d like to get involved or learn more, send an email to:

This event on private sector data sharing was the first of a curated series of “Data Philanthropy Dialogues,” to be hosted by Global Pulse and Data & Society Research Institute. If you’d like to get involved or learn more, send an email &

About the contributor

Tom started out writing and editing for newspapers, consultancies and think tanks on topics including politics and corruption in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, then moved into designing and managing election-related projects in countries including Myanmar, Bangladesh, Rwanda and Bolivia. After getting interested in what data and technology could add in those areas and elsewhere, he made a beeline for The Engine Room. Tom is trying to read all of the Internet, but mostly spends his time picking out useful resources and trends for organisations using technology in their work.

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