Digital Equity 2.0: How to Close the Data Divide
Unlike the digital divide, many ignore the data divide or argue that the way to close it is to collect vastly less data. But without substantial efforts to increase data representation and access, certain individuals and communities will be left behind in an increasingly data-driven world.
For the last decade, closing the digital divide, or the gap between those subscribing to broadband and those not subscribing, has been a top priority for policymakers. But high-speed Internet and computing device access are no longer the only barriers to fully participating and benefiting from the digital economy. Data is also increasingly essential, including in health care, financial services, and education. Like the digital divide, a gap has emerged between the data haves and the data have-nots, and this gap has introduced a new set of inequities: the data divide.
Policymakers have put a great deal of effort into closing the digital divide, and there is now near-universal acceptance of the notion that obtaining widespread Internet access generates social and economic benefits. But closing the data divide has received little attention. Moreover, efforts to improve data collection are typically overshadowed by privacy advocates’ warnings against collecting any data. In fact, unlike the digital divide, many ignore the data divide or argue that the way to close it is to collect vastly less data. But without substantial efforts to increase data representation and access, certain individuals and communities will be left behind in an increasingly data-driven world.
This report describes the multipronged efforts needed to address digital inequity. For the digital divide, policymakers have expanded digital connectivity, increased digital literacy, and improved access to digital devices. For the data divide, policymakers should similarly take a holistic approach, including by balancing privacy and data innovation, increasing data collection efforts across a wide array of fronts, enhancing access to data, improving data quality, and improving data analytics efforts. Applying lessons from the digital divide to this new challenge will help policymakers design effective and efficient policy and create a more equitable and effective data economy for all Americans.