Health Data for Common Good: Defining the Boundaries and Social Dilemmas of Data Commons

Part of the Law, Governance and Technology Series book series (LGTS, volume 35)


The promises of Big Data Analytics in the area of health are grand and tempting. Access to the large pools of data, much of which is personal, is said to be vital if the Big Data health initiatives are to succeed. The resulting rhetoric is of data sharing . This contribution exposes ‘the other side’ of data sharing which often remains in the dark when the Information Industry and researchers advocate for more relaxed rules of data access: namely, the paper frames the issue of personal data use in terms of the commons , a resource shared by a group of appropriators and therefore subject to social dilemmas. The paper argues that the uncontrolled use of the data commons will ultimately result in a number of the commons problems, and elaborates on the two problems in particular: disempowerment of the individual vis-à-vis the Information Industry, and the enclosure of data by a few Information Industry actors. These key message is: if one chooses to approach data as commons and advocates data use for common good , one should also account for the commons problems that come with such sharing.


Personal Data Data Protection Health Data Working Party Smart City 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Acquisti, Alessandro, ‘The Economics of Personal Data and the Economics of Privacy’, Background paper #3, prepared for Joint WPISP-WPIE Roundtable ‘The Economics of Personal Data and Privacy: 30 Years after the OECD Privacy Guidelines’,
  2. Argenton, C. and J. Prüfer, ‘Search Engine Competition with Network Externalities’ in Journal of Competition Law and Economics vol.8, no.1, 2012, pp. 73–105Google Scholar
  3. Bohannon, J., ‘Credit card study blows holes in anonymity’, Science Magazine, Vol.347 No.6221, 2015Google Scholar
  4. Bollier, D. ‘The Growth of the Commons Paradigm’ in Charlotte Hess and Elinor Ostrom (eds.) Understanding Knowledge as Commons Hess, MIT Press, 2007Google Scholar
  5. Boyle, J., ‘The Second Enclosure Movement and the Construction of the Public Domain.’ Law and Contemporary Problems Vol.66, No.1–2, 2003, pp. 33–74Google Scholar
  6. Brandimarte, L., A. Acquisti, and G. Loewenstein, ‘Misplaced Confidences: Privacy and the Control Paradox,’ Social Psychological and Personality Science, vol. 4 no. 3, August 9 2012Google Scholar
  7. Castells, M. The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture. The Rise of the Network Society: Volume I, vol. 61. Wiley-Blackwell, 2010Google Scholar
  8. Cavoukian, Ann, ‘Privacy by design and the emerging personal data ecosystem’, Report of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, Ontario, Canada published 12 October 2012Google Scholar
  9. Citron, D.K. and F. A. Pasquale, ‘The Scored Society: Due Process for Automated Predictions’, Washington Law Review, vol. 89, no. 1, 2014Google Scholar
  10. Coeckelbergh, M. Human Being @ Risk. Dordrecht: Springer, 2013Google Scholar
  11. Custers, B., T. Calders, B. Schermer, and T. Zarsky, (Eds.), Discrimination and privacy in the information society - Data mining and profiling in large databases. Heidelberg, etc.: Springer, 2013Google Scholar
  12. Dahl, R.A.,‘The Concept of Power’, BEHAV. SCI. Vol. 2, 1957, 201Google Scholar
  13. Dickerson, R. F., E. I. Gorlin, and J. A. Stankovic, ‘Empath: a continuous remote emotional health monitoring system for depressive illness,’ in Proceedings of the 2nd Conference on Wireless Health - WH11, 2011Google Scholar
  14. “Ecosystem” (Ecology) Oxford Dictionaries, available online at
  15. European Commission ‘Smart Cities’, last updated 18 June 2015, available online at
  16. Foucault, M. ‘Truth and Power,’ in Michel Foucault: Power/Knowledge. Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972–1977, 1988, pp. 109–133Google Scholar
  17. Floridi, L. et al., ‘Preface, in Floridi, L. et al. (eds.) The Onlife Manifesto, Springer, 2015, pp. 7–13Google Scholar
  18. Floridi, L. ‘Open data, data protection, and group privacy’, Philosophy & Technology. Vol.27, No.1, Mar 2014, pp. 1–3Google Scholar
  19. Frischmann, Brett M., Michael J. Madison, and Katherine J. Strandburg, ‘Governing knowledge commons – Introduction & Chapter 1’ New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers, 2014, paper 477Google Scholar
  20. Gardner, R., E. Ostrom, and J. M. Walker. ‘The Nature of Common-Pool Resource Problems.’ Rationality and Society vol. 2, 1990Google Scholar
  21. Gillespie, T. ‘The Relevance of Algorithms,’ In Media technologies: Essays on communication, materiality, and society T. Gillespie, P. Boczkowski, & K. Foot (Eds.), (pp. 167–194). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014.Google Scholar
  22. Gniady, Jennifer, ‘Regulating Direct to Consumer Genetic Testing’, Fordham Law Review Vol.76, Issue 5, 2008Google Scholar
  23. Goldman, Berrie Rebecca, ‘Pharmacogenomics: Privacy in the Era of Personalized Medicine’, Northwestern Journal of Technology and Intellectual Property Vol. 4. Issue 1, 2005Google Scholar
  24. Hardin, Garrett, ‘The Tragedy of the Commons”, Science, Dec. 13 1968, Vol.162, Issue 3759, 1243–1248Google Scholar
  25. Hess, Charlotte and Elinor Ostrom, ‘Ideas, Artifacts, and Facilities: Information as a Common-Pool Resource.’ Law and Contemporary Problems vol.66 nos. 1&2, 2003Google Scholar
  26. Hess, Charlotte and Elinor Ostrom (2007) ‘Introduction: An overview of the knowledge commons’ in Charlotte Hess and Elinor Ostrom (eds.) Understanding Knowledge as Commons Hess, MIT Press, 2007Google Scholar
  27. Hess, Charlotte and Elinor Ostrom, ‘Analyzing the knowledge commons’ in Hess, Charlotte and Elinor Ostrom (eds.) Understanding Knowledge as Commons, MIT Press, 2007Google Scholar
  28. Hess, Charlotte, ‘Mapping the new commons’, presented at “Governing Shared Resources: Connecting Local Experience to Global Challenges;” the 12th Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons, University of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham, England, July 14–18, 2008, available online at
  29. Hildebrandt, M. ‘Slaves to Big Data. Or Are We?’, IDP Revista De Internet, Derecho Y Política, December 2013Google Scholar
  30. Hildebrandt, M. ‘The Dawn of a Critical Transparency Right for the Profiling Era,’ in. Bus, et al (Eds.) Digital Enlightenment Yearbook 2012, vol. 12, no. 2008, JIOS Press, 2012Google Scholar
  31. Hodson, H. ‘Revealed: Google AI has access to huge haul of NHS patient data’ New Scientist, published online 29 April 2016, available at
  32. Hoofnagle, C. J., A. Soltani, and N. Good, ‘Behavioral Advertising: The Offer You Cannot Refuse,’ Harvard Law Policy Rev., No. 6, 2011, p. 273Google Scholar
  33. Janger, Edward, ‘Privacy Property, Information Costs and the Anticommons,’ Hastings L.J. Vol.54, 2002–2003,Google Scholar
  34. Koops, B.J., ‘Law, Technology, and Shifting Power Relations.’ Berk.Tech.L.J. vol.25, 2010, 973Google Scholar
  35. Koops, B.J., ‘The trouble with European data protection law’, International Data Privacy Law, vol, 4, no. 4, 2014Google Scholar
  36. Kroes, Neelie, ‘The Economic and social benefits of big data.’ Speech given on 23 May 2013 at Webcast Conference on Big Data, Brussels, available online at
  37. Lessig, L. Code 2.0, Basic Books, 2006, available online at
  38. Mayer, Jonathan, Patrick Mutchler, and John C. Mitchell, ‘Evaluating the privacy properties of telephone metadata’, PNAS, Vol 113, No. 20, 2016Google Scholar
  39. Mayer-Schonberger, V. and K. Cukier, Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think. New York: Eamon Dolan Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013Google Scholar
  40. McGinnis, Michael D. and James M. Walker, ‘Foundations of the Ostrom workshop: institutional analysis, polycentricity, and self-governance of the commons’, Public Choice, vol.143, 2010Google Scholar
  41. Millard, Christopher and Hon W. Kuan, ‘Defining ‘Personal Data’ in e-Social Science’, Information, Communication and Society, Vol 15, no. 1, 2011Google Scholar
  42. Miranda, J. et al. ‘From the Internet of Things to the Internet of People’, IEEE Internet Computing, March/April 2015Google Scholar
  43. Moerel, Lokke and Corien Prins, Privacy for the Homo Digitalis: Proposal for a New Regulatory Framework for Data Protection in the Light of Big Data and the Internet of Things, May 25, 2016, available at SSRN: or
  44. Morozov, E. ‘Europe is wrong to take a sledgehammer to Big Google’ The Financial Times, 12 January 2015 available online at
  45. Narayanan, A. and V. Shmatikov, ‘De-anonymizing Social Networks’ in Publications of 30th IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy, 17–20 May 2009, pp. 173–187Google Scholar
  46. Ohm, P. ‘Broken Promises of Privacy,’ UCLA L. REV. vol. 57, 2010Google Scholar
  47. Ostrom, Elinor, ‘Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems’, American Economic Review vol.100, 2010Google Scholar
  48. Ostrom, E., R. Garder, and J. Walker, Rules, Games, and Common-Pool Resources, Michigan, The University of Michigan Press, 1994Google Scholar
  49. Pentland, A. Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread-The Lessons from a New Science, Penguin Press, 2014Google Scholar
  50. Pentland, A., T. Reid, and T. Heibeck, Big Data and Health, 2013, Available online:
  51. Perry, L.W. et al. Predictive policing: The role of crime forecasting in law enforcement operations RAND Corporation, 2013Google Scholar
  52. Purtova, Nadezhda, ‘The illusion of personal data as no one’s property,’ Law, Innovation and Technology, vol.7, no.1, 2015, 83–111Google Scholar
  53. Pylyshyn, Z. ‘Return of the mental image: are there really pictures in the brain?,’ Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 7, 2003, pp. 113–118Google Scholar
  54. Radin, Margaret J., ‘Property Evolving in Cyberspace’, Journal of Law and Commerce Vol.15, 1995–1996, p. 514Google Scholar
  55. Reding, Viviane, ‘The European data protection framework for the twenty-first century’, International Data Privacy Law, Vol. 2, No. 3, 2012Google Scholar
  56. Regan, Priscilla, ‘Privacy as a common good in a digital world’, Information, Communication & Society, vol.5, no. 3, 2002,Google Scholar
  57. Samuelson, Pamela, ‘Privacy as Intellectual Property?, Stanford Law Review Vol.52, 2000, p. 1125Google Scholar
  58. Sethi, N. ‘The Promotion Of Data Sharing In Pharmacoepidemiology’ E.J.H.L vol. 21, 2015Google Scholar
  59. Schwartz, Paul. ‘Property, privacy, and personal data,’ Harvard Law Review, vol. 7, May 2004Google Scholar
  60. Schwartz, P. M. and W. M. Treanor, ‘The New Privacy’, MICH. L. REV. Vol. 101, 2003Google Scholar
  61. Solove, D. ‘Privacy and Power: Computer Databases and Metaphors for Information Privacy,’ Stanford Law Review, Vol. 53, 2001Google Scholar
  62. Stiglitz, Joseph E, ‘The Contributions of the Economics of Information to Twentieth Century Economics’, Quarterly Journal of Economics, vol. 115, 2000, 1441Google Scholar
  63. Sweeney, L. ‘Simple Demographics Often Identify People Uniquely’, Carnegie Mellon Univ., Sch. of Computer Sci., Data Privacy Lab., Working Paper No. 3, 2000Google Scholar
  64. Taylor, Mark, Genetic data and the law, Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
  65. Taylor, L., L. Floridi, and B. van der Sloot, (eds.) Group Privacy: New Challenges of Data Technologies, Springer, forthcomingGoogle Scholar
  66. “Incentivizing data donation” Editorial, Nature biotechnology vol. 33, 2015, 885 available online at
  67. US Federal Trade Commission, ‘Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change,’ 2012, Available at
  68. Varian, H. ‘Availability of Data Drives the Information Economy’, The Financial Times (14 January 2015)
  69. Varian, H. ‘Markets for Information Goods’ <∼hal/ Papers/japan/>
  70. World Economic Forum, ‘Rethinking Personal Data: Strengthening Trust’, Report prepared in collaboration with Boston Consulting Group published in May 2012, World Economic ForumGoogle Scholar
  71. Yeung, K. ‘Can We Employ Design-Based Regulation While Avoiding Brave New World?’ Law, Innovation and Technology vol.3 no. 1, 2011, pp. 1–29Google Scholar
  72. Zylinska, J. The Cyborg Experiments: The Extensions of the Body in the Media Age, Bloomsbury Academic Publishers, 2002Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology and Society (TILT)Tilburg UniversityTilburgThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations