Data Stewardship – what is it, and why does it matter?

In a world of pervasive artificial intelligence (AI), who controls our data and what they do with it is a big deal. Data stewardship can determine everything from who can build AI, to who can profit from AI, to what that AI can actually do.

Right now, most online data is controlled by just a handful of big tech platforms — which means that just a handful of big tech platforms are shaping much of what AI looks like today. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

At MozFest 2019, our programming focused on trustworthy AI. At the next MozFest, we’re going to continue that focus, and hone in on core areas for making it a reality. One of those areas is data stewardship. We’ll explore cutting-edge ideas like data trusts, data cooperatives, and data commons (pools of data controlled by individual users), which can fuel AI in the public interest.

Do you trust the decisions made by AI?  Most answered 'in some areas' or 'no.'
Scroll down to:

  • learn about data stewardship models like data trusts and how to get involved.
  • explore a reading (and listening) list to uncover more about data stewardship and what it means for the future of your own data.
  • meet Mozilla fellow Richard Whitt, who imagines a future where data stewardship includes trusted human agents and personal AIs that together protect our online world.
  • review Firefox and Mozilla’s data stewardship practices that provide browser users a safe and healthy online experience.

Get Involved With Data Trusts

“A data trust is a structure whereby data is placed under the control of a board of trustees with a fiduciary responsibility to look after the interests of the beneficiaries — you, me, society. Using them offers all of us the chance of a greater say in how our data is collected, accessed and used by others. This goes further than limiting data collecting and access to protect our privacy; it promotes the beneficial use of data, and ensures these benefits are widely felt across society. In a sense, data trusts are to the data economy what trade unions are to the labour economy.”
Mozilla Fellow Anouk Ruhaak is exploring the data trusts model, with a focus on health care data and data donation. If you have experience setting up governance structures, building trusts, thinking through economic models or building data pipelines, she would love your help.

The Data Stewardship Reading (& Listening) List

Data Brokers Are Cruising for a Bruising | WIRED
Mozilla Fellow Anouk Ruhaak writes about unscrupulous data brokers, a big problem in the data supply chain. She also proposes solutions: “We could hold data brokers responsible for any breaches involving data sold by them,” Anouk writes. She adds: “What if data brokers never held data in the first place? Data could instead be held by a trust or bank that specializes in keeping it safe.”

To fix the web, give it back to the users | Fast Company
Mozilla Fellow Richard Whitt imagines a future where AI and other computational tools serve individual users, not powerful incumbent institutions. He writes: “What if users had the same power as platforms? What if users had a whole layer advocating for them — an arsenal of sophisticated tools to swat away invasive ads, safeguard their personal data, and negotiate fiercely with platforms?” Richard has written extensively about trustworthy human and virtual agents. Read more of his writing about Personal AIs on Medium, check out his new paper on digital trustmediaries, and learn more about his GLIAnet Project.

On Data and Exploitation | MozFest 2019 talk
At MozFest 2019, Katarzyna Szymielewicz spoke about the troubling state of data and exploitation on today’s internet. Katarzyna Szymielewicz is a lawyer and activist specializing in human rights and technology. She is Co-Founder and President of Panoptykon Foundation, a Polish NGO defending human rights in today’s surveillance society.

Governing AI | MozFest 2019 panel
At MozFest 2019, AI experts discussed how we can create policies that keep companies accountable and enshrine human rights in automated systems. Hear from Gry Hasselbalch (DataEthics), Fanny Hidvegi (Access Now), Matthias Spielkamp (Algorithm Watch), and Philip Dawson (Element AI).

Democratize AI with Richard Whitt

“Digital assistants such as Alexa and Siri and Google Assistant can be quite helpful — but their actual allegiance is to Amazon and Apple and Google, not to the ordinary people who use them. By introducing AI-based digital agents that truly represent and advocate for us as individuals, rather than corporate or government institutions, we can make the Web a more trustworthy and accountable place.” – Democratize AI (Part 1)
Meet Richard Whitt, Mozilla Fellow and President of GLIA Foundation, a not-for-profit with the core mission of building a more trustworthy internet. Richard imagines a digital world of “computational agency” — where each of us has more control over the data we create — and where ordinary people, and not surveilling platforms, have more autonomy online.

His three part series on Democratizing AI explores how we can ensure human autonomy over our computational “screens, scenes, and unseens.”


Resource of the Month: Firefox

At Mozilla, we aim to give users meaningful control over their own data.  The Firefox browser collects data under Mozilla Corporation’s data stewardship program, which reflects Mozilla’s commitment to data collection grounded in four key pillars:

  • Necessity – We collect only as much data as is necessary when we can demonstrate a clear business case for that data collection.
  • Privacy – We give users meaningful choices and control over their own data.
  • Transparency – We make our decisions about data collection public and accessible.
  • Accountability – We assign accountability for the design, approval, and implementation of data collection.
“Mozilla’s data stewardship program is core to how Mozilla approaches user data.  Any employee who is interested can volunteer and help make sure that our collection efforts stay true to our goals and in line with our policies. It’s not tied to a specific team and gives employees an avenue to participate in furthering our mission of openness and transparency.” – Alicia Gray, Mozilla Corporation Senior Manager, Trust & Security