Governance of an exchange for personal data

What if we could shift the ownership of personal data from corporations to individuals? In the long term, this has to be a better, fairer arrangement.

I’m involved with a company that is trying to do just that. Dataswift ( Has developed a technology (the core technology was funded by the UK government and is open source) where individuals can hold their personal data on micro servers. These micro servers are linked up in an exchange, to enable ethical exchange of data.

I’m Involved because of the governance aspects. The founders recognised that fair, transparent and impartial governance would be vital to the long-term success of the project. They set up An autonomous not-for-profit company, a foundation, that is responsible for the governance (and holds a golden share in Dataswift).

What would such governance look like? Who might be involved? How would you balance all the various interests to ensure the biggest benefit to the widest number of people?

This is such a big question that the board of the foundation (of which I am a member) is thinking of creating a type of open source project to explore it. Does anyone have any thoughts, ideas or expertise to contribute to help take such a project forward? Any thoughts on how we might fund the project? Who might we involve? What technology might we use to host the conversation?

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When you say “hold their personal data” do you mean everything that any government, company, org or other individual might collect? Does anyone have a way of know what it all even is?

The person who has thought most about this here is @RobvanKranenburg.

Yes, this idea of data wallets (what you call microservers) has been sloshing around for a while – I first heard about it in 2009. Governance is tricky, because one of the key interests (data holders) is so fragmented. By this I mean not only that there are many data holders, but that our individual contribution to the data economy is small, order of magnitude of, what? ~ 100 EUR per person per year? I would barely sign up for a scheme that returned to me ~20 EUR per year as a fair reward for contributing my data (OK, I would totally sign up, but for political reasons, and I am a data geek). I would definitely want to invest zero time in making it more share so that I can get 21 EUR instead (if internal democracy is super effective).

To give you an idea, I am a member of the Italian main collecting society for music copyright monies. I have been for 30 years, and never once I voted in the elections for the board. Everybody in the board represents large copyright holders. I make maybe 4-5,000 EUR a year from that direction, so I would vote if I saw a decent alternative, but the big boys have an iron grip on he whole affair, so that’s that.

This is a great idea. Looking forward to it. In fact, if you need an online forum, you can have one of ours.

That seems like an impossible task John, as you imply. At the moment Dataswift is developing tools to harvest data from Facebook, Spotify, Fitbit, Google and so on. As the project develops, no doubt the ability to gather more and more data, including data from governments, credit rating agencies and so on will ramp up.

thanks @alberto. I agree with your analysis that getting people engaged is tricky, because the perceived value is low. We need to have some sort of legitimate proxy to speak for the masses. I feel we should avoid a representative democracy - where individuals elected in some sub-optimal way purport to speak on behalf of the masses. Maybe we can do something like the Apache Software Foundation, where individuals who have shown to be interested and committed get invited to be members, and they in turn appoint a board of trustees.

Thanks for the offer of a forum. If I wanted to take you up on it, how would I go about it?

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Thanks for the offer of a forum. If I wanted to take you up on it, how would I go about it?

Just reply here, and @hugi or I will follow up on it. As you maybe remember, there are two main ways:

  • You can have your own category on, which we would do for free. I would set it up for you myself, and then you are good to go.
  • Or you can have your own forum under We have six sites up at the moment beyond this one, and Uni Stockholm has asked for yet another one. This solution is cheap but not free. The advantage is you get more control on your site and more separation. Still, there is single sign in: the same login credentials work on all of the sites. But each site has its own admins, who control what users can do on their site. For example, I am a site admin on Edgeryders, but an ordinary user on all other sites.
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Thanks @alberto, I think for now at least having our own category on would be a good option.

Ok. Do you want a top-level category or do you prefer a sub-category of Internet of Humans, to take advantage of the already ongoing discussion here? All you need to give me is a name and a logo for a top-level category (look to the home page of Edgeryders for inspiration). For a sub-cat all I need is a name.

Internet of Humans sub-category would be fine. Name: “Governing the exchange of data”

Created. I transferred to you the ownership of the About this category topic, that gets created automatically and pinned to the top. I suggest you make the necessary edits, also indicating that you yourself are the go-to person for this category. I am sure @johncoate and @MariaEuler will be happy to support you if you need support.

I also moved this topic to the new category.


Is this sub category still used or should we move this back in the general IOH?

Hi Maria, I think you can move it back to the main category. It never really took off. Thanks!

thank you for the answer