Tech giants make billions from our most intimate personal data. Isn’t it time we took back control?

From what we buy and eat to how we sleep and socialise, big data is transforming our lives. And through data co-operatives, we have the chance to ensure it benefits us all, not just big business


We now live our lives under surveillance.  Our movements, where we shop and what we buy, our working life, who we socialise with, where and what we eat, even our sleep patterns all are now monitored and stored as data. 

While data may be a less visceral product than the co-operative movement is used to, it is a commodity that is changing the way our economy works. Private investment vehicles such as Google and Facebook are showing how digital platforms can enable us to create virtual communities, sharing services and products in a much more efficient way. 

These firms and their investors are also benefitting hugely from the vast amount of personal data we leave behind on their digital platforms. These billion pound digital technology businesses appear for now to be free and fun. However, whether it is helping to promote sugary products to our children or enabling employers to profile their employees, the way that they mine and sell our data is far from achieving a positive outcome for our society. 

This is a clear market failure and just as the cooperative movement was born at a time when disadvantaged communities needed access to food, housing and other essentials, so now it is time for our movement to grasp the opportunities afforded by digital platforms.

New solutions are needed to societal issues such as obesity, air pollution or the spiralling costs of social and child care. Surely this provides a huge opportunity for the co-operative movement to build digital platforms that can mine our data, the new oil, for a wider social purpose. 

Well it seems not. To date there are only a couple of examples of big data mutuals in the U.K, TheGoodData and OurDataMutual. Both organisations are replicating Google’s commercial model, collating and selling data on behalf of their members, and we have to go as far afield as Switzerland to find a cooperative, the HealthBankCooperative, which is going that extra yard by bundling health, fitness and lifestyle data to provide health solutions. 

A recent call by an innovation fund for cooperative and other third sector organisations who want to prototype new social purpose digital platforms presented an enormous opportunity for our community. The call for applications closed last month and was by no means overrun with submissions from the cooperative movement. Further evidence that if we aspire for our data to contribute to the common good, then new co-operative ideas are needed. 

We want to hear from our members and others in the cooperative movement. Do you know of any mutual organisations that could have benefitted from this type of innovation fund? Do you have any ideas on how to make the cooperative values and principles work in the digital sharing economy? 

Let’s get the debate started and ensure that our movement remains just as relevant in the fourth Industrial Age as it did in the first. 

Get involved

We want to hear from our members and others in the cooperative movement. Do you know of any mutual organisations that could have benefitted from the ShareLab fund? Do you have any ideas on how to make the cooperative values and principles work in the digital sharing economy? Let us know here.