Working Toward Public-Private Data Sharing

Public-private data sharing occurs when government bodies and organizations exchange information. Progress in this area could facilitate improved innovation and problem-solving by eliminating access barriers. However, some concerned individuals worry about how government branches and private organizations will use their information.

Although public-private data-sharing initiatives are in the early stages, some examples show what’s possible while underscoring the need for privacy. Many initiatives include and span beyond the sharing of information too.

Thwarting the Wildlife Black Market

People familiar with the black market for trading wildlife and its body parts say criminals view it as a high-reward/low-risk realm. However, a new public-private partnership to share financial data about suspected illegal trading could change that.

Project Anton — which relies on data sharing from parties in several countries — involves various measures to identify possible instances of forbidden transactions. For example, some participants have expanded their media-monitoring techniques to look for specific phrases associated with the wildlife trade. Others are becoming more familiar with some common characteristics of illegal transactions and the people who perform them.

Advocates for this initiative say it goes beyond measures that primarily track and discourage poachers. Project Anton also focuses on information associated with intermediaries, such as shippers and warehouses. Those details should raise awareness of the black market and the adverse ripple effects it can cause.

This information is vital because parties involved in illegal wildlife trading frequently engage in illicit or dangerous activities, such as drug trafficking. Collaborative efforts like this could stop some of the activities fueling animal-based transactions while illuminating other activities requiring further investigation from law enforcement officials or regulators.

Promoting Responsible Data Sharing in Schools

Schools can be public or private entities, depending on their funding sources. In a growing number of cases, data-sharing practices occur between public schools and private companies providing various apps to those educational institutions.

Consider how a 2021 study found that 60% of school apps sent data to various third parties. Additionally, such apps provided information to an average of 10.6 third-party data channels, including those used by companies like Facebook and Google.

Another finding showed public schools were more likely than private institutions to send data to such entities. Plus, 18% of apps used by public schools transmitted information to entities categorized as high-risk third parties because they shared data with potentially thousands of networked entities.

Even so, that doesn’t mean all public-private data sharing involving the education sector must be risky. Instead, it highlights the need to exchange that information responsibly and work toward greater transparency.

For example, Google offers many resources and programs for public school teachers and students, including programs for people to learn coding and other in-demand skills. Teachers also use numerous third-party apps to speed activities from lesson planning to paper grading. However, before any public school administrator, educator, or other industry professional decides to use a service or app provided by a private entity, they should always learn what data the party collects and why.

Centralizing Transportation Infrastructure Information

When people do public-private data sharing well, they can quickly access the information that allows them to make more confident decisions. However, succeeding in that goal requires following some best practices.

For example, people should always encrypt sensitive data and be careful to send it to the correct recipients. Once everyone agrees to specific rules and chooses appropriate use cases, the possibilities of public-private data sharing are virtually endless and the results can benefit large population segments.

A recent example is a transportation database tool associated with the three states and 16 counties around Chattanooga, Tenn. The city has more than two dozen freight brokers and shipping companies, but the database can do more than help those entities track the movement of goods.

It can also quantify how many people use the area’s roads or reveal the possible causes behind a business’s freight bottlenecks. The tool is free, catering to government representatives, enterprises, and transportation planning professionals.

Elsewhere, the United Kingdom’s Geospatial Commission released a report explaining how public-private data sharing could accelerate various transportation-related improvements associated with electric cars. The document advises using electricity network operator data to confirm the existing capacity and tap into commercially held data about leased electric vehicles to determine their adoption rates in particular areas.

People familiar with the research say this kind of public-private collaboration is essential for filling knowledge gaps and spurring the creation of data modeling tools. Then, responsible parties can answer questions about which locations best suit commercial-vehicle charging points or whether specific communities need urgent infrastructure development to meet projected demand.

Exchanging Medical Data for a Healthier Society

Safe and responsible medical data exchanges could alert the involved parties to possible problems, such as unsafe products or virus outbreaks. Many organizations that sell health-tracking products allow people to show the information to their doctors or other treatment teams. That data could help them get diagnosed faster and shorten the time frames for starting the most appropriate medical interventions.

Data sharing can also enhance medical research by increasing information access and showing scientists what their colleagues in the industry have already done and what results they got. In 2022, the World Health Organization initiated a new policy that requires relevant parties to develop and use data sharing and management plans on any projects conducted or supported by the WHO.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many tech companies assisted with the development of location-tracking apps that told users if they might be near someone infected with the virus. Government authorities also anonymized location data to track peoples’ movements during lockdown periods.

A 2021 Australian study examined the public’s opinion about their government-held health data being shared with private entities. The results showed nearly 52% of respondents would consent if it would improve health services. However, many participants wanted such data sharing to occur only under stipulated conditions.

Additionally, some respondents doubted the Australian government could manage responsible data sharing and felt concerned about private corporations’ profitability interests. The ability to opt in to provide information to private businesses was another desire expressed by those in the research.

The points raised emphasize public-private health data sharing can benefit people. However, things could quickly go wrong and the public’s trust could erode if the parties involved don’t build precautions into their processes.

Public-Private Data Sharing Deserves Further Investigation

The examples here and elsewhere emphasize that public-private data sharing can unlock new opportunities that benefit society. However, any existing or emerging projects must prioritize information safeguarding so only authorized parties can access the data and personal, identifiable details stay appropriately protected.

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Ellie Gabel

Ellie Gabel

Ellie Gabel is a writer and associate editor for Revolutionized. She primarily covers innovations in the tech and computing space for an audience of industry professionals, though she got her start as a science writer.

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