Author: Makoto Yano, President, RIETI
In order to sustain a healthy cyber ecosystem, we need to design an effective system of establishing data ownership from both legal and economic perspectives. Blockchain technology enables us to define the ownership of each piece of data and makes data searchable by assigning data ownership to the specific individuals who generated the data. Indeed, by taking advantage of this technology, we can attribute the ownership of digital data to individual data producers. At the same time, however, information tech giants can hoard massive amounts of data cheaply by utilizing blockchain technology. To avoid such a winner-takes-all situation and build a healthy cyber ecosystem, it must be decided who should own the data?
Momentum is building for individual ownership of data, i.e., attributing the ownership of a piece of data to its producer, for instance, by including provisions to that effect into the Act on the Protection of Personal Information. However, there is little compatibility between the protection of personal information and the use of data for industrial purposes because digital data are of little value in industrial terms when analyzed on an individual basis. Only when collected from as many individuals as possible and used for statistical analysis, can digital data have significant value. Such digital data can be anonymized, and when done properly, it would provide sufficient privacy protection. Even so, concerns over data ownership infringement would not disappear. A separate system, other than the system under the Act on the Protection of Personal Information, needs to be established to attribute the ownership of the data to their producers.
Blockchain technology is advancing exponentially. However, technology alone cannot solve the issue of data ownership. We need to take advantage of evolving technology and develop it as an industry. In designing a cyber ecosystem necessary to achieve that end, we must address various cross-disciplinary issues that encompass the legal and economic spheres. These issues should be analyzed from the perspectives of the law and economics in order to enable the holistic design of relevant institutional frameworks.