The Long Tail of Data Partnerships

by | Jan 11, 2020 | ICT4D |

The garden we inherited with our house has long been neglected. Over 5 years of neglect. With this comes lots of fun. Treasures to be found hiding in the weeds, animal hide out, fallen trees, many species of plants, and utter dominance of certain invasive weeds. For us, it’s stinging nettles. These plants come with lots of benefits, but ‘sting’ you if your skin brushes them, so not great for children.

In the part of our garden where we hope to grow vegetables and want to cultivate flowers, I’ve been pulling them out. Now stinging nettles spread by having shooting their roots out in all directions. They spread silently underground. Is not uncommon for me to pulling up a root and find it is 4 feet long. And those are the short ones! And with each one I pull, I rarely am successful at guessing which direction the root will go. I am almost always surprised.

As I pull them out (and yes it is satisfying!), I find myself thinking about how it is a good illustration of how data spreads in our digital world. And how the longer it sticks around the further it travels.

It’s nearly impossible today to find organisations who do not work in partnership with other organisations. Especially in the digital space. Our data and that of the vulnerable people we work with travels millions of miles regularly. We can guess where the data trail will go, but when we follow it, we almost always are surprised. Old files left on USB sticks or old laptops. List of beneficiaries found in a random database in another country. Data passed from one partner to another to another. And then one of the partners is bought out by another company who then inherits all the data (whatsapp anyone?).

We anonymise datasets but then someone connects it with lots of other datasets and people are re-identified. We encrypt data but then someone breaks the encryption. The trail grows and continues.

So we pull up the roots. And maybe it’s time to seek other solutions to data sharing and data partnerships.


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