Data Trusts: 3 Key Concepts

Data plays a significant role in our daily routines but its usage is often beyond our control. In a blog post by the Royal Society of Arts (RSA), it was revealed that we have little say on the collection, access, and utilisation of our data by others. One potential remedy to this concern is the establishment of data trusts.

As explained in a blog article by the RSA, data trusts are an approach that designates a board of trustees to oversee the handling of data, with a duty to safeguard the beneficiaries’ best interests. Not only do such trusts limit the usage of data, but they also advocate for the most advantageous applications of data. This idea holds significance for personal data rights and the public welfare, as extensive amounts of de-identified data can be utilised for the sake of research and enhancing advancements.

Works offers an extensive investigation into data trusts including their definition, management, utility for individuals and corporations, and future applications, as described on our website. Our analysis delves into the means by which data trusts can improve the collection and distribution of data, safeguard private information, and integrate autonomous third-party data governance.

Efficiently Manage and Amplify Data Gathering and Sharing

The data collection, retention, and distribution sector is mainly dominated by major technology companies that possess the requisite resources. Although these firms may not face similar regulations as their counterparts, their tactics may not necessarily align with customer interests.

Platforms such as Facebook, Google, among others, provide advertisements aimed at reaching individuals that satisfy particular advertiser-defined criteria. Nonetheless, individuals who furnish data to these firms do not receive any compensation. Is this equitable? The solution to this question is largely a matter of subjectivity, but the reality is that it is not voluntary. The implementation of data trusts can aid in formulating regulations around what data can be obtained, which parties can access it and under what circumstances.

Data trusts can yield benefits for both entities and individuals alike. According to recent guidelines issued by the European Commission, data sharing for socially beneficial ventures is regarded as a civic duty. The creation of a data trust to supervise the worldwide data market is an essential aspect of this initiative. Citizens will receive “data dividends” as compensation for granting technology firms access to their data through the trust. Canada is also contemplating the inclusion of data trusts in its updated data privacy legislation.

As of early 2023, there are several unanswered questions about the EU agreement, particularly in terms of effectively tackling certain obstacles. That said, it seems that segregating data stewardship from data consumption is a step towards the right direction. Sharing data can have a multitude of potential applications such as fraud detection, product development, supply chain transparency, policy formulation, medical research, and innovation.

Watch this video by the Centre for International Governance Innovation to discover how data trusts can enhance your organisation’s data management.


MIT Technology Review has observed that technology firms have failed to adequately safeguard personal data. Most individuals are unaware of how frequently their personal information is traded, exchanged, or distributed. This lack of regard for privacy is a significant concern that cannot be disregarded.

While data gathering and application can be advantageous for society, it may not be equally beneficial for each individual. A perfect example would be the ‘smart city’ campaign, which is likely to be governed by a firm that is accountable to its shareholders rather than the public. Regrettably, this company has no commitment to protect users’ privacy, despite the possibility of streamlining and customising user experience through data collection and utilisation.

In certain workplaces, surveillance of employees may still be conducted, even if a privacy policy is already in effect. The imbalanced power dynamic between large organisations and their employees can lead to even the strictest of regulations being rendered ineffectual.

Delegate Your Data Management to a Third Party

Specialists have engaged in extensive discussions on how to effectively return data to its creators. Multiple solutions, such as restructuring Big Tech firms, nationalising Big Tech, and depending on individual data repositories, have been suggested, but each has some downsides. It is crucial to examine whether governmental regulation of private data would be a superior substitute for that of private corporations.

Data trusts were established to curtail the influence of big entities such as corporations and governments. Additionally, they relieve individuals of the obligation to comprehend how to utilise the data, which would otherwise necessitate a significant amount of time to familiarise oneself with its intricacies.

Data trusts are specialised groups assigned to make determinations based on industry-specific standards, much like how numerous individuals rely on financial experts’ advice. Those responsible for the trust are answerable solely to the beneficiaries.

Another benefit of a data trust is its ability to function as a decision-making entity on behalf of numerous individuals. Without such representation, if a disagreement with one of the major technology corporations arises, an individual would be helpless. As a result, they may have no other option but to discontinue utilising the service. Representing a substantial number of customers, the advocate is capable of utilising the fear of mass customer exodus against a tech giant.

What Awaits Data Management in the Future?

Numerous inquiries regarding the appropriate functioning of data trusts, given their recent appearance, remain unanswered. These include concerns about how data should be exchanged, the obligation to comply with applicable laws, and possible misuse of the data. There are also uncertainties regarding whether the data should be preserved in its current state or shared, as well as the potential implementation of new technology like blockchain to enhance operational efficiency.

Individuals, corporations, governments, and societies that aim to establish data trusts must deliberate on the concerns at hand and formulate suitable resolutions, as they develop into more advanced data collectors, managers and utilizers.

Businesses in the healthcare, banking, and social media sectors have started to pilot this commercial approach. Its initial phases have sparked a great deal of curiosity, and its future growth will be closely watched.

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