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digital economy

A fair data marketplace for all

Siddhartha Raja's picture
Credit: Kentoh/Shutterstock
Billions of people around the world are barely aware of their participation in a trillion-dollar data market. Its growth and impact has been accelerated by the easier flow, storage, and analysis of data—thanks to rapid advances in digital technology combined with falling costs of computing. The global data economy is estimated to be worth more than US$3 trillion; the European Commission believes that personalized data was worth over EUR 300 billion by 2016. The application of personal data for online advertising is also skyrocketing with the internet surpassing television as the leading advertising channel. Two internet giants—Facebook and Google—have combined digital advertising revenues on par with the gross domestic product (GDP) of Morocco.
 
This marketplace is reshaping how people interact with and use information, leading to new opportunities. Yet, it confronts these people and policymakers alike with new questions of the trade-offs between privacy, convenience, and access to information.
 
In chapter 4 of our latest Information and Communications for Development report, we started to frame what this marketplace (or places) might look like. We sought to understand what the costs and benefits were for people—the producers of much the data, the most valued commodity in this new economy. We tried to abstract from the now almost (worryingly regular) news of leaks and hacks to get a better sense of what might be ways to think about public policies that lead to a more balanced and fair data marketplace. We thought about the opportunities and the risks that are emerging, but also about what might be ways to make data marketplaces fairer in their functioning.

In Africa, technology and human capital go hand in hand

Sheila Jagannathan's picture
Photo: eLearning Africa
Rwanda’s progress from the devastating civil war two decades ago to one of the most rapidly developing African countries is a remarkable narrative on development.

Twenty-four years ago, the country was torn apart by civil war and one of the worst genocides human history has known; one in which more than a million people were killed in only three months.

Now, with years of sustained economic growth—predicted to be around 6.5% this year, the country is well on the way to achieving many of the ambitious development goals set out in the Rwandan Government’s ‘Vision 2020.’ This strategy seeks to move away from agriculture and rely instead on services and knowledge as the new engines of economic growth, with the objective of achieving middle-income status in the near term.

I had the privilege of getting a snapshot view of Rwanda’s success during the few days I spent in the country last month attending elearning Africa 2018, the continent’s largest conference on technology-assisted learning and training. The choice of Kigali as the location for this year’s conference is highly symbolic: Rwanda has put education and skills at the heart of its national strategy, and can send a powerful message to other African countries about the importance of investing in human capital to support overall development.

Mogadishu’s first tech hub

Roku Fukui's picture
Photo: UNSOM/Flickr
Somalia’s capital city of Mogadishu is defined by a complex mix of challenges and opportunities. Despite political and economic struggles, Somalis are innovating to break the chronic cycle of vulnerability. Supported in many cases by the international Somali diaspora, people in Mogadishu are using technology to solve problems and tap into new markets.

One initiative poised to accelerate this is the iRise Tech Hub, Mogadishu’s first innovation hub, co-founded by Awil Osman. iRise connects entrepreneurs, innovators, and startups to share ideas and collaborate on a variety of issues ranging from developing an online food delivery startup, to creating an open space for Somalis to incubate ideas. The Somali concept of Ilawadaag—roughly translated as ‘share with me’—is put into practice at iRise to help entrepreneurs get feedback and network with other innovators.

Are you reaping the full benefits of the technology revolution?

Sara Sultan's picture

 
About 17 years ago, I began preparations for applying to colleges in America. One of the prerequisites to qualify for an undergraduate program was the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), administered at testing centers around the world. I vividly remember calling the number given to see how I faired in the test, standing at an international call center booth on a sunny afternoon in Islamabad, Pakistan, my heart beating fast with anticipation. The call cost Rs.100/minute at the time ($1.05/min at the current rate). But despite the expensive price tag, the service delivered information I desperately needed.

Fast forward to the age of Google Voice, WhatsApp, Viber… You’ll agree that technology has not only advanced but services have become cheaper as well. Technology is entrenched in our everyday tasks—from communication to financial transactions, from expanding education to building resilience to natural disasters, and from informing transport planning to expanding energy to the unserved.

So, ask yourself: am I—a student, teacher, business owner, or a local government representative—reaping the full benefits of the greatest information and communication revolution in human history? With more than 40% of the world’s population with access to the internet and new users coming online every day, how can I help turn digital technologies into a development game changer? And how can the world close the global digital divide to make sure technology leaves no one behind?

Blockchain technology: Redefining trust for a global, digital economy

Mariana Dahan's picture



a longer version of this blog post is available on the
MIT Media Lab’s Digital Currency Initiative platform

With Google Trends data showing that searches for the word “blockchain” have exponentially increased, we may be entering the peak of the hype cycle for blockchain and distributed ledger technology.

But here’s the thing: the blockchain is a major breakthrough. That’s because its decentralized approach to verifying changes in important information addresses the centuries-old problem of trust, a social resource that is all too often in short supply, especially amid the current era’s rampant concerns over the security of valuable data. It turns out that fixing that can be a boon for financial inclusion and other basic services delivery, helping to achieve the global objectives laid out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Sorting out hype from reality may depend on how well we identify where institutions that have until now played a role in mediating trust between people are falling short, especially in the key area of money. Deploying the blockchain in those settings to generate secure, decentralized trust could achieve great strides in inclusion and innovation.

What do we mean by decentralized trust? The concept is unfamiliar in part because its converse -- centralized trust – is something that we often take for granted, at least while it’s working. But if we look at the history of transactions since the early barter systems to modern-day digital money exchanges, we can see how different trust protocols for keeping track of our exchanges of value have evolved and how, in each case, centralizing trust within particular institutions has periodically caused problems.

As strategies for dealing with this challenge evolved and as the complexity and frequency of transactions grew, different trust bearers emerged. We went from relying on the memory and discretion of tribal leaders, to central governments issuing currencies in the form of precious metals, to commercial banks acting as trusted intermediaries and issuing their own bank notes, to central banks managing a hybrid system in which sovereign fiat banknotes circulate alongside a debt/credit form of money managed by regulated banks and internal ledgers.