Breaking up data monopolies

June 20, 2019 12:04
Government and public organizations should take the lead in opening up data, an expert says. Photo: Reuters

One often hears complaints that some internet giants have acquired enormous data as first movers, and that they are now enjoying data monopoly. 

More than half of global population, or 3.8 billion people, are using the internet. Users spend over 220 minutes on average on the mobile phone every day, making the collection of quality data possible, creating winners like Google, Facebook, Taobao and WeChat.

To prevent data monopoly, some people want to borrow the experience of tackling with commercial monopoly to prevent big companies from depriving consumers of choice.

Oxford Internet Institute researchers came up with an idea, which is requiring big players to share some of their data with smaller rivals.

But my question is, how we get to know what sort of data these big companies possess?

And does it make sense to force data owners to list out their data resources and share with others?

I also believe implementation of this method would be extremely difficult.

Instead, it would be easier to start with government and public organizations and have them share their data. That would enable small and medium-sized companies to innovate by using the database.

Some government agencies, as a matter of fact, are already opening up their data.

The driving force of innovation has shifted from human wisdom to data-driven machine learning. Those who gain more data would have a clear edge and potentially become more innovative.

It’s definitely not a good thing if data is owned by a handful of big companies. Promotion of free data flows in the society would be the best way to fight monopolies.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 19

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Venture Partner of Sequoia Capital China, former head of the data committee and vice president at Alibaba Group.