Towards an African alliance for meaningful data access

Access to digital data, and the use of this data, is a significant variable for progress in Africa towards the sustainable development goals and Agenda 2063. However, Africans struggle to get access to data generated on the continent. This is often held by technology intermediaries, such as social media platforms and, to a lesser extent, telecommunications and satellite companies. This work and its related report focus primarily on data held by social media platforms.

The African reality thus far has been one of limited access to and uptake of social media data assets. This mirrors African stakeholders’ difficulties in accessing (and processing) public data in general and data from other private sector actors. Advances in regard to social media platforms could stimulate progress in these other areas and aspects.

To better understand the issues at stake around access to data and demand for access to data RIA conducted interviews with 36 experts and data-related practitioners in diverse sectors from around sub-Saharan Africa. We also incorporated the views expressed by participants in four events convened under the framework of this project. This research revealed an African appetite for increased access and use of social media platform data. But it also revealed a low awareness in the wider society of the significance of data, and it shows gaps in data literacy and governance, even amongst interested stakeholders.

This report discusses a range of issues around the sharing of tech intermediaries’ data, including issues of privacy and transparency and the tensions between the two, as well as a discussion on the challenges around capacity on the continent.

In conclusion, the report calls for, and is part of, a greater movement towards building an alliance of interested parties to engage for greater access to data on the continent and building skills and capacity to leverage that data for the public good and sustainable development.

This report covers a project supported by the Action Coalition for Meaningful Transparency (ACT), of which RIA is a member. The topic is platform transparency and data access for African stakeholders.