Creating meaning from data across the economy will require hard, organisational change in many firms

The creation, collection, storage, transmission, and use of information has been going on for millennia. Around 10,000 years ago the societies of the First Agricultural Revolution began to plant and harvest crops, recording and passing on what they learned. They might have just remembered and verbally communicated the information they were accumulating; they could have put it down in carvings or clay; or perhaps they had social rituals, like harvest celebrations. …


A law is only as good as its enforcement

The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is often discussed as being the personal data collection and use regime to which the world should aspire. Apple’s Tim Cook has called for the United States federal government to adopt a similar law. India’s Data Protection Committee described the EU as being at the ‘vanguard’ of international data rules, while Consumers International put the GDPR as perhaps setting a new ‘gold standard.’ …


International regulatory cooperation could foster economic growth and deeper sharing of digitally stored information as modern technology evolves

Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

‘Data’ is the electronic storage of information, and having more and better quality data should increase a country’s ability to make valuable goods and services that it can sell to foreign consumers. Britain’s Open Data Institute recently published scoping research by me and my former colleagues on three priority issues for data and trade competitiveness: ‘factor conditions’, or how domestic arrangements affect the availability and use of data at home; ‘market access’, or the ease with which firms trading with data across borders can sell into foreign markets; and international regulatory cooperation (IRC) between countries that could improve the compatibility…


If you want to break-up big tech, be clear about which type of domination you’re against

What to do about big technology companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google? Leading American politicians like Senator Elizabeth Warren have been arguing that digital platforms such as Amazon’s shouldn’t be able to sell their own products on them, and US academics like Tim Wu have written about the Curse of Bigness. Both have claimed that these companies dominate their markets unfairly and need to be broken-up because they are preventing new and better companies from growing. The European Union fined Google €1.49 billion in March this year for restricting the freedom of its rivals to advertise.

Photo by Kyle Mills on Unsplash

Big profits

Apple’s market capitalisation…


Herbert A Simon’s classic work guides us on how to work in a new age

Herbert A Simon. License: CC BY 3.0

Herbert A Simon won the Nobel Economics Prize in 1978 for his ‘pioneering research into the decision-making process within economic organisations’ and is known for his work on bounded rationality. But his book, The Sciences of the Artificial, is his grand theory of everything. It’s the type of work that pulls the world together, explaining lots of things at once and establishing itself as almost axiomatic.

Simon makes one basic point in The Sciences of the Artificial: that the universe is unbelievably difficult to understand and we gradually categorise our knowledge of it into ever smaller pieces of information until…


Professor Jason Furman’s Digital Competition Expert Panel has rightly put regulatory competence first

Image used with Open Government Licence v3.0

The Report of the UK’s Digital Competition Expert Panel was published last week, recommending market-based policies such as data portability that are worth getting excited about. Done right, they could create new firms and digital services that are hard to imagine now but might better help us plan our lives, connect with friends, and move around. But the thrust of the report is about positioning Britain’s competition authorities for the fight that’s coming with Amazon, Facebook, Google and others. …


Anthony King and my other political science lecturers at the University of Essex taught me that Britain and its Western neighbours were a ‘liberal project’, and that modern politics was about what to do with its consequences. George Dangerfield’s famous book from 1935, ‘The Strange Death of Liberal England’, explores some of the reasons why: Britain’s Liberal Party passed the People’s Budget in 1910, faced down the House of Lords during constitutional reform in favour of the democratic House of Commons in 1911, and extended the vote to women in 1918, all considerable achievements that have kept it mostly out…


I was recently told by an international development specialist that ‘theory of change’ is just jargon, and means the same thing as ‘line of sight’. But it isn’t and it doesn’t, and he was wrong. Choosing which method to use during the design of an international development intervention can have substantial effects on its success.

The concept of a line of sight dominates how World Bankers think about their interventions in developing countries. I’ve heard countless senior staff complain about a project or development strategy not having a line of sight, and that there will need to be one before…


Democratic political systems are strong because they create competing policy options which they can use now, or when circumstances change. Academics, think tanks, pressure groups and opposition politicians write reports challenging the status quo, pointing out how everyone is getting it wrong. As they do so, they store ideas and generate ‘policy optionality’. Many of the reports will eventually make it to a dusty bookshelf, seemingly irrelevant, but some will come in handy one day.

Undemocratic systems tend not to create enough ideas to mean that they can adapt when circumstances change. And when they collapse or are forced into…


There’s so much to admire Russians for. They invented modern acting, taught the world how to live in space, and have made more contributions to the way soccer is played than Britain has for 70 years. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that Dozhd was a world leader as it pioneered Internet TV; and Yandex might have learnt how to do traffic mapping before Google. But sometimes things happen in Russia that induce, in me at least, the deepest despair over the future of the country.

As Russians were ‘voting’ today, two liberal politicians, Alexei Navalny and Ksenia…

Lawrence Kay

Microeconomics of data, politics of Russia, uncertainty of policy-making. Views are mine and not those of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation or the DCMS.

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