The Right to Benefit from Big Data as a Public Resource
Mary D. Fan
The information that we reveal from interactions online and with electronic devices has massive value—for both private profit and public benefit, such as improving health, safety, and even commute times. Who owns the lucrative big data that we generate through the everyday necessity of interacting with technology? Calls for legal regulation regarding how companies use our data have spurred laws and proposals framed by the predominant lens of individual privacy and the right to control and delete data about oneself. By focusing on individual control over droplets of personal data, the major consumer privacy regimes overlook the important question of rights in the big data ocean.
This Article is the first to frame a right of the public to benefit from our consumer big data. Drawing on insights from property theory, regulatory advances, and open innovation, the Article introduces a model that permits controlled access and the use of big data for public interest purposes while protecting against privacy harms, among others. I propose defining a right of access to pooled personal data for public purposes, with sensitive information safeguarded by a controlled-access procedure akin to that used by institutional review boards in medical research today. To encourage companies to voluntarily share data for public interest purposes, the Article also proposes regulatory sandboxes and safe harbors akin to those successfully deployed in other domains, such as antitrust, financial technology, and intellectual property law.