Fixing asymmetry in data governance and Adam Smith’s invisible hand

Fixing asymmetry in data governance was a topic mentioned in the Wednesday webinar. Perhaps I misunderstand what this means, but in our current economic system large corporations, such as Google, benefit from hoarding the information they are collecting from us and other companies, and only selectively releasing it back to the rest of us. To me it looks like that fixing this problem would require fixing the economic system itself.

As discussed by e.g. Juliet Schor and Alex Pazaitis et al and indirectly by Jeremy Rifkin, our current economic system, including the very structure of money, is not up to date in aligning the public societal interests and private interests. In general, information is an anti-rival good while the tangible things that our life depends on, like food, are rival goods. That is, if I ate a cake, you cannot eat it too, but if I utilise a piece of information, you can do that as well. As Schor, Pazaitis and the others argue, money — as we know it — evolved to serve the exchange of rival goods, leading to what Adam Smith called the “invisible hand” aligning the interests of the society in the large with the interests of private actors.  That is the very reason why our capitalistic system works in the first place.

What comes to information, this alignment no longer works. From the societal point of view, the more efficiently we distribute information, the more efficiently the real economy can work. However, we do not have proper structures to motivate companies to share their information.  Of course, the original idea of the patent and copyright systems were to incentivise companies to share their information through giving them exclusive rights for a limited time. However, that has been later watered down and shown not to work as originally intended.

So, returning to the asymmetry in data governance, could it perhaps make sense to create new incentive structures — somewhat similar to what money and rival goods exchange is — that are specifically designed to incentivise efficient sharing of information.  That is, to create structures that make it more beneficial to share all of your information than to keep it as a “trade secret”?

That may come about as completely utopian and impossible, but as Pazaitis et al argue, there are already attempts to do this within the community and crypto currencies movement.

Now, I am wondering

  1. if such a radical approach to information asymmetries and decentralisation is too far fetched for the ICT-24 call, and if not
  2. if there are any others here who possibly might want to collaborate with us in this area?