In today’s digital and connected economy, data has become a vital resource that when combined could unlock new forms of value, connect previously unseen linkages and provide insights to stimulate growth and innovation in the Digital Economy.

Organisations of all sizes are taking steps to exploit the competitive advantage that big data, social media and the Internet of Things offer in profiling and analysing customer buying patterns.

Data drives revenue

Facebook reportedly generates 96 per cent of its revenues through targeted advertising that leverages user data, while Google’s sophisticated search capabilities attracted advertising revenues of more than $57 billion last year. Between them, the two companies accounted for over 70 per cent of digital advertising, creating a global duopoly.

In this data-driven world, however, it’s often the case that the people who generated the data have little or no control over what happens to it once it has been captured. Even our ability to access data relating to personal transactions in areas such as banking, telecommunications and health has become more challenging in our increasingly paperless environment.

The Productivity Commission will soon unveil its final report into Data Availability and Use, the result of a 12-month consultation process that attracted hundreds of submissions from across business, government and the wider community.

The draft report, released last October, proposed the introduction of a Comprehensive Right for consumers to access and control data relating to them. The scope of this Comprehensive Right includes the right to direct data holders to copy data in a machine-readable form, and provide this either directly to the individual or to a nominated third party, such as a transferring health records to a new doctor or a phone usage data to a competitive telco vendor.

What is the scope of the right?

The proposed right to direct data holders to share a copy of their data with a nominated third party is evolutionary but some will view this as a radical step that would challenge the notion held by many that the data they collect about their users, customers or stakeholders is their proprietary asset.

Access to data and their use have become a hot topic over the past few years and at the rate of technological transformation, the debate is unlikely going to abate any time soon.

The EU leads the world in legislating to protect and provide access to personal data with its EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). These reforms became law last April and apply from May 2018. They improve user access to data, increase data portability, clarify the “right to be forgotten” and mandate the reporting of data breaches, amongst others, while also enhancing transparency and encouraging innovation.

Our legal framework falls short in providing clarity and certainty on the treatment and usage of data assets in many areas of commercial endeavour. Law and policy makers, in reviewing and updating intellectual property, privacy and other laws, need to be aware of the specific challenges posed by data and its use in the Digital Economy. Legal certainty is important to encourage further value and innovation.

Open data essential for fintech growth

The growth of fintech start-ups over the past few years has given users greater access to a growing array of data-driven applications aimed at improving financial services and investment outcomes. From retirement planning and online trading to investment portfolio management, the fintech sector relies on access to a wide range of financial data.

History shows that widespread access to a key enabler leads to an abundance of innovations, such as the proliferation of mobile phone apps that occurred when smartphones became commonplace. It’s reasonable to assume the same thing will happen with data-driven innovations, once clear frameworks for transparency, access and portability of data have been established.

The Productivity Commission inquiry adds further stimulus to the data debate.

Ultimately, economies have formed around data and will continue to proliferate, irrespective of whether we have an adequate legal regulatory, policy or governance framework. The debate on data and its use will intensify as data assets become more and more critical to our future economies and our ability to innovate — requiring rebalancing of the commercial, private and public interests in data, and not least, privacy concerns.

Getting that balance right will be one of our biggest ultimate challenges moving forward.

The ACS submission to the Productivity Commission called for the development of an Accounting Standard for data to provide consistent and clear definitions for how data assets are valued and leveraged to generate economic benefits.

We believe this could become an area of competitive advantage, with Australia playing a global leadership role in systemising accounting frameworks for data.

Anthony Wong is President of the ACS and Chief Executive of AGW Consulting P/L, a multidisciplinary ICT, Intellectual Property Legal and Consulting Practice.