The concentration and privatisation of data infrastructures has a deep impact on independent research. The so-called ‘datafication of everything’ results in unprecedented potential and urgency for independent (academic) inquiry. Yet, researchers are increasingly confronted with unwarranted obstacles in accessing the data required to pursue their role as critical knowledge-institution and public watchdog. An important reason behind this, is the increasing centralisation and privatisation of data infrastructures into the hands of corporations with strong (legal, technical and economic) disincentives to share the vast amounts of data they control with researchers. This has precipitated important power asymmetries over access to data and who effectively defines research agendas.
In this talk, Jef Ausloos will explore how the law – i.e. transparency obligations and data protection access rights – can be used by the (academic) research community as a tool for breaking through these asymmetries. Building on recent publications and ongoing work, the talk will comprise two main parts. Firstly, Jef will sketch different regulatory approaches for enabling platform data access, drawing from expansive transparency frameworks in other sectors. Secondly, he will dig deeper into one already existing legal framework that might offer a useful tool in researchers’ toolbox to obtain access to enclosed datasets; i.e. data rights in Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). While this approach shows potential, researching with data rights is still very much in its infancy. Overall, this talk aims to provide appropriate initial conceptual scaffolding for important discussions around how to enable meaningful data access for platform research.