December 16, 2020

Opportunity: Design Futures for a “Consumer Data Co-op”

Ginny Fahs

R&D and Product at CR Digital Lab, focused on consumer data rights.

U.S. consumers have little control over the collection and sale of their personal data, which leads to profiling, manipulation, price discrimination and other practices that cut against consumers’ best interests. Regulations such as California’s CCPA and Europe’s GDPR introduce new data rights that seek to restore power to individuals, but also depend on consumers’ practical ability and motivation to exercise these rights.

Meanwhile, technologists and researchers are pioneering new data governance models — such as data unions, data trusts, and data cooperatives — that create value for consumers by collectively pooling and analyzing their data. We are interested in better understanding how consumers might benefit — for instance, by getting a better deal, by contributing to large-scale consumer protection research, by organizing for social change, or by understanding their conditions relative to others (and so on).

CR Digital Lab therefore seeks to develop 3–5 case studies / storylines that respond to the question: “Assuming consumers can compel companies to share their data with a trusted third party, what are some potential applications for consumer data cooperatives in 2030?”

We expect these case studies to be delivered in narrative format that explains a specific “application” or “use case” of a data cooperative, and the practical benefits to a consumer participating. This narrative may, but not necessarily, be communicated with the aid of visuals, diagrams, or mockups.

Case studies should be logically presented and supported by data, insights and research from relevant fields of expertise (e.g. economics research, data science, digital marketing, consumer advocacy, and / or others).

Finally, cases might also suggest the sorts of laws and technologies needed to realize these futures (for instance, stronger data rights; clearer guidelines for compliance, standards and agreement on the structure and mode of delivery of user data, and / or other considerations).

Proposal Submission

We are seeking proposals from individual researchers, design firms, and research groups to begin work in January and can be executed in 4–8 weeks. Because of the multidisciplinary nature of this exercise, we are open to working with designers, researchers, academics, technologists, innovation strategists and others.

However, all proposals should ultimately be user-centric, in the sense that they should clearly articulate the hypothetical benefits to a consumer, and which the imagined beneficiary would find useful or compelling.

Proposals should highlight the proposer’s expertise with the work described in this RFP, including relevant projects and experience working on data rights and/or data governance issues.

Proposals will be considered on a rolling basis until mid-January.

To submit a proposal or request more information, contact digitallab@cr.consumer.org.

Background

Consumer Reports is a trusted and nationally recognized non-profit with an 80 year history conducting policy work at the federal and state levels. The Consumer Reports Digital Lab incubates research, products and policy solutions that strengthen consumer power in the digital marketplace.

In 2018, CR helped pass the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which grants California consumers the rights to know what information companies have on file about them, delete personal information from a company database, and opt-out of the sale of their personal information by companies. Additionally, the “authorized agent” provisions of CCPA provide for consumers to delegate their rights to a trusted third party. We are exploring the potential of authorized agents and what becomes possible when consumers can meaningfully exercise their data rights.

In October, CR launched our first experiment to put the CCPA’s “authorized agent” provision into practice. In addition to this applied work, we are seeking to develop speculative briefs describing consumer-facing applications that help consumers exercise their data subject access rights, and how consumers might benefit from stronger data subject access rights.

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