Posted on Nov 19, 2023Read on

Harnessing Data for Community Empowerment: Insights from Jones and Tonetti | GratitudeSeries 18/60

When we were researching for the “data ownership and wellbeing of gig workers” project we stumbled upon an insightful paper that reshaped my understanding of data in our increasingly interconnected world. "Nonrivalry and the Economics of Data" by Charles I. Jones and Christopher Tonetti opened my eyes to the unique characteristics of data and its profound implications for economic sustainability and community development.

Data, as Jones and Tonetti articulate, is nonrival. This means that data like our location history, medical records, or driving data can be simultaneously used by multiple firms without being depleted​​. This fundamental nature of data challenges traditional economic models, leading to fascinating insights about market structures and property rights.

One crucial lesson from this paper is that private data, when isolated, holds limited value. It's only when aggregated that it reveals meaningful insights. This principle underpins our approach to community building. Websites like or are more than just platforms; they're data fiduciaries, harnessing the collective power of individual data for communal benefits.

However, the journey is not without its challenges. The paper highlights a tension between the benefits of widespread data use and the risks of privacy erosion. Firms, fearing creative destruction, may hoard data, limiting its potential for societal benefit​​. This is where our approach diverges, focusing on consumer ownership of data. By empowering individuals to control their data, we strike a balance between privacy and economic utility, an equilibrium that Jones and Tonetti found to result in significantly better consumer welfare compared to firm ownership​​.

The "data as labor" perspective further enriches this understanding. The notion that individuals are not adequately compensated for their data contributions resonates deeply with our community ethos​​. Our communities, therefore, are not just gatherings; they are economies in miniature, recognizing and rewarding the value of each member's data contributions.

This approach also aligns with broader concerns about privacy in data markets, as discussed by Acquisti, Taylor, and Wagman (2016), and Acemoglu et al. (2020). The challenge is to create data markets that respect individual privacy while preventing inefficient outcomes, such as undervaluation of data or excessive privacy losses​​.

Through the lens of Jones and Tonetti's work, our communities evolve beyond mere social platforms; they become guardians of data, balancing economic gains with privacy, and driving sustainable economic systems. It's a model that not only respects the individual but also leverages collective strength for greater good.

In closing, I extend my heartfelt gratitude to Jones and Tonetti. Their insights have been pivotal in shaping our understanding of data's role in community building and economic sustainability. Their work has been a guiding star in our journey towards creating communities that are not just socially connected but economically empowered and sustainable.

As I reflect on this journey, I'm reminded of how vital it is to continually adapt and evolve our understanding of the digital landscape. Jones and Tonetti's insights have been instrumental in this evolution, guiding us toward a future where data is not just a commodity but a cornerstone of community and economic empowerment.


  1. Jones, C. I., & Tonetti, C. "Nonrivalry and the Economics of Data."