March 14, 2019 5 min

Element AI and Nesta Publish Data Trusts White Paper

MONTRÉAL, March 14, 2019, CNW Telbec—Element AI, a global AI products and software company, today released a white paper on Data Trusts, co-authored with Nesta, a UK-based global innovation foundation. Along with the growing prevalence of AI datasets, this white paper raises awareness of the risks inherent in current data sharing models and aims to promote responsible and empowering new regulatory guidelines. The document encourages policymakers to explore how data trusts—a third-party stewardship model based on the common law trust—can be used to improve upon data governance, while encouraging innovation through experimentation.

With the support from the Fonds de Recherche du Québec, IVADO, and the Canadian Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, the two-day Data Trusts workshop took place at the Element AI Montréal headquarters in December 2018 with representatives from France, the United Kingdom, Australia, Switzerland, the United States of America, and Canada.

This white paper addresses the need to empower citizens by re-assessing how AI is used to collect and leverage personal data. The report additionally recommends that governments pilot the implementation of data trusts as soon as possible in collaboration with civil society and industry. The report states that maintaining the status quo risks provoking a public backlash that would imperil the ability to use data for socially positive reasons.

"There is a pressing need to explore new data governance models that provide the public with better control over how, when, and where their data and behaviours are captured and used," said Nesta Head of Technology Futures Harry Armstrong. "At the Data Trusts workshop, we collectively agreed that governments and industry must re-think how new technologies can be applied to protect all of our combined interests," added Armstrong.

Element AI and Nesta are committed to exploring inclusive and collaborative approaches to public policy-making, helping better understand and define the cross-cutting issues related to the development and deployment of AI. Specifically, these issues include: individual privacy, data governance, consumer protection, intellectual property rights, and competition law. This white paper provides governments and industry with the grounds for a new framework for data governance—with the objective to restore public trust, and enable the ethical use of how AI shall process personal data in a manner that serves the public interest.

"There is an undisputed erosion in public trust for how personal data is used, by whom and for what purposes," said Christina Colclough, Director of Platform and Agency Workers, Digitalisation & Trade, UNI Global Union. "Big data and AI can generate highly accurate and informed insights and predictive analysis in potentially intrusive ways. This is not least evident in the workplaces where AI and algorithms are now used in human resources, but with little transparency and accountability. We were encouraged to participate with Element AI and Nesta to propose proactive ways forward that allow workers, citizens and the public at large to collectively benefit from the responsible pooling of their data. We must protect and honour our human rights and privacy rights while we encourage government regulation as a step forward," added Colclough.

The white paper concludes that consent-based models of data governance fail to protect the public against privacy violations and the unethical collection of personal data. Notably, a lack of market competition means consumers have little to no alternative choices for privacy protection, as the monopolization of data by a limited number of corporations perpetuates the extraction of public value from data.

"The current consent-based model for data privacy is broken," said JF Gagne, CEO at Element AI. "Element AI cares deeply about algorithmic fairness, for both its customers and partners, and this Data Trusts white paper is a step in the right direction to propose meaningful control over how data is used. The average person doesn't understand how their information is being used. Reports show that it would take 244 hours to actually read all of the privacy policies and 'consents' we give to websites we visit in a year. To understand these issues, we gathered the best and brightest experts in the world to focus on how to bring about change and made the recommendations to ensuring AI develops in a non-exploitative manner, so all can benefit," said Gagne.

The complete Data Trusts white paper from Element AI and Nesta is available for download here:

About Nesta

Nesta is a global innovation foundation that tackles the big challenges of our time, working with partners, governments, businesses and charities. Nesta is a UK charity that works all over the world, supported by a financial endowment. To find out more visit

About Element AI

Element AI delivers AI software products that augment decisions to make businesses safer, stronger, and more agile. Element AI is headquartered in Canada with offices in Montréal, Toronto, London, Singapore, and Seoul. Element AI is funded by leading investors including BDC Capital, Data Collective, Fidelity Investments Canada, Hanwha Investment, Intel Capital, Microsoft Ventures, National Bank, NVIDIA GPU Ventures, Real Ventures, and Tencent.

To learn more about Element AI, visit:


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