What are data trusts and how would they work?

Whilst people are moving towards the idea of better protecting their data, we still can not control it 100%. The only way is to limit the amount of data we share with advertisers. But still, every time a website asks us if it can use our data, we automatically click “Yes”, right? Although, there is a new solution on how to protect and at the same time benefit from your data – the concept of data trusts. In this article, we will explain to you what could be a data trust, how can it help us to protect our privacy and to take advantage of your data usage.

What is a data trust?

First of all: what is a data trust? Is it some sort of a bank but for your digital data? Yes, partly it is. You can also see it as a trade union standing for your labor rights if you want. Or a “data doctor” who knows what to do and only wants the best for you. The concept of data trust was first suggested by the UK government in 2017 to train artificial intelligence with large data sets. In 2020, European Comission suggested creating a single market for data to help research and innovation. Nowadays, the concept has become extremely popular since it could be a useful solution to protect your data and make the most out of it at the same time.

Basically, data trust is an organization that holds your data and the board of trustees with a fiduciary responsibility decides how to use it the best way possible – to you, companies who buy your data, and society in general. The very important point is that trusts have a legal duty and responsibility to look after the data of their beneficiaries and act in their best interest.

How would data trusts work?

Data trusts could store your data and use it with a fiduciary responsibility meaning that the trustee who’s in charge of your data only acts in your interests. And he decides how and by whom your data is collected, used, and processed. Imagine that a group of Google users create a trust, and the trustees decide when and how to share your data with the service and what type of ads it is allowed to show you. If the service misbehaves the trust can retract all data. In that case, a trust or a union is stronger than just an individual.

There are certain platforms trying to build data donation services, such as AlgorithmWatch. This service wants to let browser users donate their data linked to a specific service, such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, etc. to a platform so it can analyze later how they are targeted and what ads they have been served with. Another startup CoverUS is helping its members to collect health data and improve health services with it, for example. These services could be managed by data trusts in the future, for example. The MIT startup Solid and MyData project aim to decouple the content from the apps and put the user back in control of their data. They also suggest the reusing of the existing data, which can be a solution.

Benefits of data trusts

Although, data trust is still an ambitious project and a goal for society, there are already certain benefits that the users can take advantage of. First of all, if data trusts will actually work, the privacy of our data, the decision making of how to use it will be the trustee’s responsibility, which will relieve the stress of constant data leaks, permanent control of the information, and even haunting ads. In the future, if the concept will work, the data holder could even receive yearly dividends from its data usage, so it might become a profitable way of investment as well. And the most important is that the privacy and security of our data that we are so desperately searching for, will be reestablished.

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