Data Democracy film to screen in Silicon Valley

The use of data by both governments and the private sector has become highly controversial.

A Federation University Australia-commissioned short film that explores the concepts of a data democracy will screen at an international film festival held in the region that is home to many of the world’s tech heavyweights.

The film, Data Democracy, has been accepted into the Silicon Valley International Film Festival – an event where tech industry leaders are invited to view the films and engage with their creators. Silicon Valley is home to many of the world’s biggest tech companies, including Google, Apple, eBay and Facebook.

Associate Professor Peter Dahlhaus, from the Centre for eResearch and Digital Innovation (CeRDI), said a data democracy referred to the ideal system in which data could be accessed in a timely and equitable way, and is a key focus of the centre and its research partnerships.

He said there were many public benefits from accumulating, federating and aggregating data, but the use of data by both governments and private institutes had become highly controversial, raising important questions about access, rights and community interest in the digital and geospatial age.

“One of the things that's happened in the last couple of decades is that we've seen a shift in the collection of data from the public sector to the private sector, so where in the past the government was more or less the keeper of all data, more and more we're seeing that shift to the private sector,” Associate Professor Dahlhaus said.

“The concept of data democracy – it's not about using data to create democracy – we want to be democratic about being able to see each other's data as much as possible because if you want to do any planning or decision-making, it's good if you've got the best possible dataset.

“The idea here is that we want to see if we can expose all the data that we've got on something, but people have to feel comfortable about it so that when we expose that data, it has to be according to the rules that the data custodians are comfortable with.” Associate Professor Peter Dahlhaus

The Director of CeRDI, Associate Professor Helen Thompson, said data democracy was an issue of national and global significance, and the commissioning of a short film was an effective way to advocate for change in how people work with and think about data.

“Other projects where we've partnered on with films have been more about a specific initiative like online farm trials or visualising Victoria's ground water – this one is much more around a philosophy that we think will fuel those future impacts that the university can have when it partners with others around data,” Associate Professor Helen Thompson said.

CeRDI commissioned independent film production company Wind & Sky Productions for the film. Producer Lucinda Horrocks said the film was entered in the festival because it was designed to catch the attention of Silicon Valley’s tech workers.

“The festival is partly about sharing films that will interest them but it's also about connecting filmmakers to the entrepreneurs or the people who work in Silicon Valley who may have disposable income and might help to push a project forward,” Ms Horrocks said.

“We thought it would be a nice festival for us to screen at as it seems to be very carefully curated to be of interest to the technical worker audience and we thought data democracy is something they might value.

“And we're really excited to be showing there, especially during COVID, because we had a short list of five science-based festivals and three of them were cancelled within two weeks of us sending our applications. So it's really nice that this one is going ahead as a virtual event in San Francisco.”

The Silicon Valley International Film Festival will be held from December 11 to 13. For more information and to watch the film which features Associate Professor Dahlhaus and other data experts, visit the Data Democracy website.

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