€5m project to trial blockchain tools aimed at giving people greater control of their data

Written by Rebecca Hill on 16 May 2017 in News
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EU-funded project Decode to look at how distributed ledgers could help people better control their personal data in a bid to build trust around data ownership

Setting your own rules? Nesta project aims to give people more control over how data is used - Photo credit: Pexels

A three-year €5m (£4.29m) project to develop and test blockchain-based tools to increase people’s ownership and control over their online data, funded by the European Commission, has been launched.

The project, named Decode - for Decentralised Citizen Owned Data Ecosystem - aims to create tools that will encourage people to take more interest in their data, and to change the way people feel about sharing that information.

Innovation agency Nesta, one of the 14 partners in the research project, said that the aim was to give people better control of their personal data, which has “enormous power and value” but is “locked away in silos”.

In addition, it said, many of the ways in which data is generated online is “monopolised by a handful of big businesses that do not always serve individuals and communities fairly”, which prevents it being used by other organisations that might use it to create services for public benefit.

“The ongoing litany of data breaches, government surveillance controversies and the monopolisation of personal data by a small number of giant firms is no longer sustainable,” said Eddie Copeland, director of government innovation at Nesta.

“We need a new way for people to consciously protect and share their data. The potential to do so is huge; not only can individuals feel greater trust in the services and devices they use; they will also be able to share their data to support the growth of new social ventures, improve the functioning of cities and participate more in open, online democratic processes.”


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The research project will develop technologies and tools to give people more control, which will be piloted in Amsterdam and Barcelona, and focus on open democracy, the Internet of Things and the sharing economy.

Nesta said the idea was to create a “data commons” - a shared data pool that is openly accessible for people to contribute, access and use data - and then provide people with tools that will help them set the rules on how that data is used.

These tools will use blockchain - or distributed ledger - technology, which is used to securely store information online by creating a database of packages (blocks) of digitally recorded data.

These blocks can be controlled by different organisations, and all transactions are recorded, with timestamps, across all versions of the ledger.

In the case of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, it ensures that each Bitcoin is counted only once, therefore allowing transactions to take place without the need for an intermediary or for people to necessarily trust each other.

The research team plans to use blockchain technologies to create “smart contracts” that allow people to set rules about whether their personal data is kept private or shared.

The Decode project team said there “huge promise” in the concept of a data commons, but that it was “an embryonic area which needs more focus for us to realise these benefits” - and that the project would also work on how the value provided by open data can be understood.

The project team involves organisations in Spain, the Netherlands, Italy, Sweden, France and the UK, and is led by the chief technology and innovation officer for Barcelona, Francesca Bria. It is due to complete its work in December 2019.

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