Calls for Input: Research ICT Africa Consultations on Africa Access to Data

Research ICT Africa
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12 Sep 2023

What if there were an African alliance for meaningful access to intermediaries’ data holdings?

Access to data and the use of such data is a significant variable for progress in Africa towards the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2063. This is highlighted most recently by the rise of generative artificial intelligence (AI) trained on large data sets. Among the biggest holders of African-generated data at scale and over substantial time periods are electronic communications intermediaries – i.e. internet and telecom companies. Many of these entities have made general commitments to transparency and have also taken some steps towards openness in some regions. The current African reality is one of limited access and uptake of intermediaries’ data holdings. But the potential exists to change this.

Research underpinning this document has revealed a low awareness of the significance of intermediaries’ data holdings but also some appetite for increasing access and use. This means there is interest in the “demand” side that includes – but also goes beyond – what is currently availed in transparency reports or the existing access possibilities currently afforded by the companies. This attention is evident among academics (particularly those advocating for open science), as well as data journalists, non-governmental organisations with interests in various subjects (e.g., monitoring disinformation, gender equality, climate-related online content, fact checkers), regulatory instances (e.g., electoral management bodies) and data-based start-ups. Currently, substantive access to intermediaries’ data holdings is largely by going through costly brokers (which are too expensive for most African stakeholders) and/or to informal scraping of public-facing data on the platforms. A few commercial African entities have partnerships with Intermediaries, which entail data cooperation between the two sides.

With this background paper, Research ICT Africa will bring together stakeholders at the Africa Internet Governance Forum (AfIGF) in Nigeria to discuss access and use of data held by tech intermediaries in Africa. We invite stakeholders and experts in this field to join us for an evening session on Monday, 18 September 2023. To book a slot and RSVP, please send an email to lorembo@researchictafrica.net.

For those who can’t make it to the African IGF, we are happy to receive feedback on the paper through the comment box on this webpage or email ACT@researchictafrica.net

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