We need to increase public trust in data

Data is a huge force for societal good, but to maximise its potential the data industry must first tackle the deficit in public trust around its use, writes Or Lenchner, CEO of Bright Data

Data has the power to unlock enormous, unprecedented value across the public, private and third sectors. Aware of the vast opportunities, and keen to ensure the UK is a world leader in this new ‘commodity’, the government has set out an ambitious agenda, published in a National Data Strategy, to maximise its ultimate value and potential.

We’re already seeing that value begin to surface in several important areas. Data-driven businesses are more innovative, efficient and customer-centric. Data has been at the heart of pandemic response plans and was utilised by scientists to develop vaccines at record speed. And data has also been identified as an essential ingredient in meeting net-zero carbon targets, reducing crime, informing policy and creating a fairer and more inclusive society.

Hearing these examples, it’s easy to see why data is the most valuable resource in the world today, and central to advancing all parts of society for the better. Yet many people don’t understand data’s potential because public opinion is too often informed by negative stories about data breaches and misuse of personal information. Crucially, the ultimate value of data cannot be exploited unless people trust how it is used.

A study by the Information Commissioner’s Office last year highlighted the extent to which the British public distrust how organisations use their personal data. While trust in the NHS was rated at 75%, this dropped to 55% for national government organisations, 34% for broadband and utility providers and 15% for social media platforms.

All of us who believe in the power of data have a responsibility to tackle the public trust deficit by increasing understanding of its many positive uses

All of us who believe in the power of data have a responsibility to tackle the public trust deficit by increasing understanding of its many positive uses. That’s why we created the Bright Initiative, a charitable organisation that supports data education and provides social impact organisations with free access to tools that gather unstructured public web data.

The Bright Initiative has given abuse.ch – a non-profit project fighting malware and botnets – access to critical public web data to track bad actors and share insights with the wider security community, making the internet a safer place. We also joined forces with the creator of FindAShot.org to help Americans access and book Covid-19 jabs with ease and simplicity.

The list continues: we helped Humans Against Trafficking create a mobile app to identify at-risk children before attackers do, worked with educational charities like UpReach to give undergraduates from less-advantaged backgrounds better access to graduate jobs, and supported diversity hiring activities.

These are just a few societal benefits from using alternative data sources.

In an ideal world, all public data would be open and accessible by design, reducing the human time needed to gather and analyse it. But IDC estimates that 80% of data worldwide will be unstructured by 2025, flowing from the likes of social media, streaming services and sensors. This type of data isn’t neat and ordered – it’s sprawling and unruly – and the only way to get value from it is with automated tools and platforms, like Bright Data.

Of course, alternative data is not a panacea. It should be used responsibly and carefully in conjunction with more traditional sources. It must be transparent, open and responsible, ensuring the whole of society benefits from fast-moving advances in data. If all parts of the data industry commit to this approach, public trust will quickly grow.

We must take the opportunity to harness data to go further and faster. Greater familiarity with data will be critical, moving it away from being abstract and technical to something everyone understands. Education is essential to building a more data literate population where people feel not only more trusting of data but also more able to contribute to the economy it shapes.

For more information, visit brightdata.com

Promoted by Bright Data