These beneficial uses of private-sector data are not just one-off, isolated occurrences -- just this past month two major tech companies have offered to put valuable and even potentially life-saving data to good use for the public. Facebook will now start matching users' location data to Amber Alerts to rapidly spread awareness about missing children, and Uber will be donating its anonymized transportation data to city governments to help reduce congestion and enable better city planning.
However, it is important to keep in mind that many of these success stories could have been blocked by rules limiting data collection or unnecessarily restricting data reuse. If researchers had not been allowed to analyze data from the electronic health records of Kaiser's patients, it might have taken more time to prove the harmful effects of Vioxx. The takeaway for policymakers should be that data, even or perhaps especially in the hands of the private sector, has enormous potential to improve societal welfare, and so government should be cautious about implementing well-intended restrictions that limit data-driven innovation.
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