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How to treat data as public good


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Non-personal data

Mains level : Paper 3- Issue of data sharing

This is the age of Big data. Even after anonymising it, we gain useful information using analytical tools. So, given its potential, there is a call for treating the public data as a public good. This article analyses the suggestion of Kris Gopalakrishnan panel in this regard.

Why data matter

  • By one brave count, the world generates over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day.
  • A significant chunk of it is highly valuable.
  • With the increasing sophistication of tools designed to analyse it, the value of the data is increasing further.
  • This analysis of data can yield market patterns, traffic predictions, epidemic risks and much more.[Remember why Google shows you only particular ads.]
  • Data need not be either big or personal for it to be highly sought after.

Non-personal data: A public good

  • Would it not be better if at least some data were treated as a public good?
  • Treating it as a public good will allow its open use by startups, do-gooders and government bodies.
  • Dealing with such questions, a centre-appointed panel, headed by Infosys co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan, submitted its draft report on the regulation of non-personal data in India.
  • “Non-personal data” is defined as that which is either devoid of people’s details or anonymized to prevent individual identification.

Proposals of Kris Gopalan panel

  • The panel has proposed a new data authority to regulate non-personal data.
  • It has also outlined the need of a framework that would require companies to share its databanks with others.
  • Sharing of databank will help the country catalyse business innovation, bolster India’s startup ecosystem, and help governments and local authorities frame data-enriched public policies. 


  • What data a private entity can be forced to disclose must follow a commonly accepted set of principles.
  • Data authority demanding companies to share data painstakingly acquired often with large sums invested to acquire it won’t work.
  • Also, if sharing data blunts companies’ strategic edge over competitors, they would probably appeal against it in court.
  • If enterprises fear that their confidential learnings could be threatened by intrusive data authority, then the cause of innovation would actually be set back.

Way forward

  • A clear set of guidelines could be set down that specify what sort of data qualifies as a public good and must be kept open to all.
  • For other kinds of data, maybe a market mechanism could evolve that lets various parties bid for privately-held information.

Consider the question “There is a growing demand for treating the non-personal data as a public good. What are the benefits and challenges of treating the non-personal data as public good?


Given its potential, big data does deserve regulation. But it needs to be done with clarity.

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