At a national level, we need governments that do not deliver the neoliberal gospel. At this point, it would take a very brave one to say, we just don’t think private companies should run these things. We also need governments that would take a bet and say: we believe in the privacy of individuals, so we are not going to subject everything they do to monitoring, and we’ll have a strong legal system to back up all requests for data. But this is where it gets tricky, because you could end up with so much legalism corroding the infrastructure that it becomes counterproductive. The question is how can we build a system that will actually favour citizens, and perhaps even favour some kind of competition in its search engines. It’s primarily from data and not their algorithms that powerful companies currently derive their advantages, and the only way to curb that power is to take the data completely out of the market realm, so that no company can own them. Data would accrue to citizens, and could be shared at various social levels. Companies wanting to use them would have to pay some kind of licensing fee, and only be able to access attributes of the information, not the entirety of it.
Unless we figure out a legal-social regime that will allow this stock of data to grow without it ending up in the corporate silos of Google or Facebook, we won’t get very far. But once we have it, there could be all sorts of social experimentation. With enough data you could start planning beyond the horizon of the individual consumer—at the level of communities, neighbourhoods, cities. That’s the only way to prevent centralization. Unless we change the legal status of data, we’re not going to get very far.