Data Policies: Finding a Balance Between Human Rights and Economic Interests

Data is becoming the business model of many companies. Thus, the conflict of interest between citizens, governments and large technology companies that benefit from private data but are unwilling to take on social and economic responsibility is becoming increasingly clear. Governments face the challenge of finding a balance between human rights and economic interests in the data-driven economy.


The OECD (2002) defines data policies as a set of general, overarching principles that define the data management framework form. Data policies can provide the foundation for a strong digital industry, ensuring its openness and fairness. It is therefore essential for governments to take an active role in the data-driven economy on the one hand and to protect the data of their citizens on the other. This means that countries must establish and enforce clear and fair rules that enable innovation, development and growth. At the same time, they must determine how they collect, use and share data in a way that protects citizens from abuse.

The BMZ supports governments and other stakeholders in developing such rules and principles. For example, the DataCipation project supports the African Union in developing the AU Data Policy Framework.

Imbalance in the global tech ecosystem

There is an imbalance between the countries that are less digitally connected and the hyper-digitized countries where the technologies, platforms, innovations and standards are being developed. However, there is an imbalance not only between, but also within individual countries. It is important not to underestimate the impact that the data-driven economy has on a population. The data-driven economy often offers advantages for a country’s educated elite. It is necessary to look beyond economic development indicators to identify possible factors that can lead to data inequality or data-based discrimination and to include them in the development of data policies. In this way, a data policy that contributes to the promotion of inclusion and sustainable development can be achieved.

Data policies to help everyone benefit from the data-driven digital economy

The “Digital Economy Report 2021” the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development recommends designing international data policies with some flexibility to ensure that countries of the Global South have the necessary political leeway to develop their own policies to succeed in the data-driven digital economy. For example, they should be able to implement industrial policies to support the value added of domestic data. At the same time, they should continue to build the necessary capacities to benefit from the data-driven digital economy.

It is equally important that development organisations and donors support and shape a more inclusive digital space. These organisations can use international cooperation for the transfer of technologies and skills, access to financial resources, open data platforms and harmonisation of data regulations. All actors must work for high-quality digital access, promote the development of local innovation and responsible use of data to protect the most vulnerable parts of society while advancing their digital economic goals in order to achieve inclusive development in the digital age.