Data Trusts: 3 Key Concepts

The importance of data in our daily lives cannot be overstated; however, we seldom have control over how it is used. The Royal Society of Arts (RSA) has highlighted this issue in its blog, expressing concern that we have limited influence over what data is gathered, accessed and used, and by whom. One proposed solution to this problem is the creation of data trusts.

Data trusts are a framework which places data under the responsibility of a board of trustees with the obligation to ensure the best interests of the beneficiaries, as outlined in an RSA blog post. Not only do data trusts impose restrictions on the use of data, but they also promote the most beneficial applications of the data. This concept has implications for both individual privacy rights and the public interest, which can benefit from vast amounts of anonymised data for research and development purposes.

At Works, we provide an in-depth exploration of what data trusts are, who manages them, how they serve people and companies, and how they can be utilized in the future. We analyze the ways in which data trusts can enhance data gathering and dissemination, protect individual privacy, and incorporate independent third-party governance of data.

Streamline and Expand Data Collection and Sharing

Big tech companies have a dominant presence in data collection, storage, and dissemination due to their access to the necessary resources. In some cases, they are not held to the same standards as their competitors. Nevertheless, their policies may not always be in the interests of their customers.

Advertising on platforms such as Facebook, Google, and others is often tailored to target individuals who meet the criteria defined by the advertiser. However, those who provide the data to these companies are not rewarded in any way. Is this just? The answer to this question is subjective, however the fact remains that it is not a choice. The introduction of data trusts could help to establish regulations around the types of data which can be collected, who can access it and under what conditions.

Businesses and individuals can both reap the rewards of data trusts. The European Commission has recently established guidelines that view data sharing for beneficial initiatives as a civic duty. Implementing a data trust to manage the global data market is an integral part of this plan. Citizens will be compensated with “data dividends” for allowing technology companies access to their data through the trust. Canada is also considering the introduction of data trusts in its updated privacy laws.

At present in early 2023, there are still various queries concerning the EU agreement yet to be answered, such as how to effectively overcome certain impediments. Nevertheless, it appears that separating data stewardship from data consumption is a move in the correct direction. Fraud detection, supply chain transparency, product development, medical research, policy formation, and innovation are all possible uses of data sharing.

Learn how data trusts may improve your organization’s data management in this video from the Centre for International Governance Innovation.


It has been noted by MIT Technology Review that technology corporations have demonstrated poor stewardship of individuals’ personal data. Most of us are unaware of how often our personal information has been exchanged, traded or distributed. This disregard for privacy is a major issue that should not be overlooked.

Data collection and utilization can be beneficial to the public; however, this does not always mean it is beneficial for every individual. An example of this is the ‘smart city’ initiative, which is likely to be controlled by a company that is answerable to its shareholders rather than the public. Unfortunately, this company has no obligation to protect user privacy, even though data collection and utilization would enable users to benefit from a more streamlined, tailored experience.

Despite having a privacy policy in place, employees in certain workplaces may still be subject to monitoring due to standard practice. The power imbalance between larger organisations and their employees can render even the most stringent of rules ineffective.

Have an Outside Party Manage Your Information

There has been much debate amongst experts regarding effective methods of returning data to its original creators. Possible solutions such as separating Big Tech businesses, nationalising Big Tech, and relying on individual data repositories have been presented, yet all have certain drawbacks. It is important to consider whether governmental regulation of private information would be a preferable alternative to that of private corporations.

Data trusts have been developed to limit the power of large organisations such as governments and businesses. Furthermore, they save individuals the effort of understanding how to make use of the data, which would otherwise require a significant amount of time to become familiar with its complexities.

Data Trusts are specialist groups appointed to make decisions based on the relevant industry criteria, in the same way that many people rely on the advice of finance professionals. Those responsible for the trust are accountable only to the beneficiaries.

A further advantage of a data trust is its capacity to act as a decision-making body on behalf of numerous individuals. In the event of a disagreement with one of the leading computer companies, an individual would be powerless without such a representative. Consequently, they are likely to have no option other than to discontinue using the service. By representing a significant number of customers, the advocate is in a position to leverage the fear of widespread customer abandonment against a digital giant.

What Does the Future Hold for Data Management?

There remain a number of unresolved questions concerning the correct functioning of data trusts, given their recent emergence. These issues include the manner in which information should be shared, the need to adhere to relevant legislation and the potential for misuse of the data. Questions also arise as to whether the data should remain in its current form or be shared, and whether new technology such as blockchain can be implemented to improve the efficiency of operations.

Those looking to establish data trusts must consider the issues at hand and devise appropriate solutions as individuals, businesses, governments and societies grow to become more advanced data gatherers, custodians and users.

Companies in the healthcare, banking and social media industries have begun trialling this business model. Its early stages have generated much interest, and many will be monitoring its development in the future.

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