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Allow barrier-free access to knowledge and data

More needs to be done to ensure the public has avenue to useful statistics.

Organisations are investing heavily on creation, storage, maintenance and protection of data. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH

The June 6, 2017 edition of global magazine Economist ran an interesting heading, “The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data”.Judging from the responses on the comments section, it evoked two major emotions depending on which side of the data divide you sit. For the fence-sitters, shifting global sentiments on data ownership, commercialisation and privacy have created an opportunity to nudge towards either side. For starters, the “value” tag and its monetary implication raise several pertinent questions that have ramifications around the world.Who owns such a valuable commodity: the custodian, the conduit, the collector or the regulator? Secondly, how do we apportion percentage ownership over the same given the multiple players? Who holds the basic rights to distribute to the others?A reverberating theme is hoarding of information derived from aggregate data. By placing a premium on it, one automatically locks out many potential users downstream; many who cannot afford to pay for it but who actually stand to benefit from it.In placing a comparison to oil, we wrongfully imply it is a commodity with exhaustible origins. Truly useful data, benefits all and is not short in supply.In academia and science in particular, sentiments on data hoarding prevailed for a long time, where prestigious journals held information gained from studies as a preserve of the few, inadvertently locking out many from knowledge chalice that could have saved lives or helped improve things.

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Today, such walls are being broken down through open access journals. A growing global movement of academicians, researchers, scholars all argue for the value of this ease of access to publications.Importantly though is the issue of privacy. With commoditisation of many data sources, banking, utility, class performance, commuting and many others, collectively as a society we need to agree on the rules of its utilisation. And if monetary, what, when and how much is such data worth. Arbitrar for such disputes, hopefully is not limited to the government.For instance, banking institutions hold purchase transactions by card for millions of people. If analysed they could potentially identify a person’s preferences, tastes, commutes and expenditure patterns.Would they be right to then share this with advertisers and marketing agencies to target specific products through other media? If they do so, what share of the revenue stream should they cede to their account holder’s.New movement incorporating study subjects and participants indicate that whatever is gleaned from their participation be “shared freely an openly” to all who wish to access it. As we mark the just ended world Open Data Day, let us espouse this new concept of barrier-free access to knowledge and data.

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