Last year, I was honored to join the European Digital Media Observatory’s Working Group on Platform-to-Researcher Data Access. Chair by Professor Rebekah Tromble (George Washington University), the group had a very difficult and important task: to draft a Code of Conduct on access to platform data under Article 40 of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Facilitating the conditions under which independent research can access high-quality, privacy-compliant data from digital platforms is not simply an issue of interest to academics interested in digital media. As I emphasized in commenting on my recent work for the Council of Europe, democratic societies need the kind of knowledge that can derive from responsible access to and use of these data to develop evidence-based policies that are increasingly necessary in the face of societal concerns for the problematic uses and undesirable implications of some digital technologies. We need evidence-based policies in these areas not only because it is good practice in complex societies, but also because most of the policies that are being discussed in liberal democracies would entail some limitations to freedom of expression, which is a universal human right according to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The work we did with this committee, which included twelve representatives from academia, civil society, and technology companies, was one of the most fascinating and challenging experiences of my professional life. We dealt with a large number of very complex issues while striving to take into account legal, technical, scholarly, societal, and economic perspectives. More often than not, I found myself in admiration of the expertise and acumen of my colleagues and feeling I was learning way more than I was able to contribute.
The report, which includes a draft of the proposed Code of Conduct, is now publicly available and open for consultation from any stakeholder involved. One key recommendation, which we discussed at length with the Working Group, is that an independent intermediary body should be created, tasked with a variety of important functions described on page 13 of the report:
For some initial reflections and highlights, please see the threads by Rebekah Tromble and Mathias Vermeulen, who played a key role in facilitating and informing our work as part of the data rights agency AWO.