Data cooperatives are part of the landscape of people experimenting with community ownership in the digital economy. But why does ownership of digital platforms or protocols matter at all? The ownership of assets has profound implications on many aspects of life; it impacts income inequality and, concretely, the daily experiences in the workplace. With cooperative ownership, members jointly decide the rules of the game. Responsibly collecting, storing, and sharing data is key to unlocking its potential. Governance of such data means that the data rights of communities are protected, and the use of data is fair and focused on social benefit. It changes the current paradigm of individuals surrendering data to large tech companies to a community ownership system. Communities retain data rights, accountability, legal standards, and fiduciary representation. With data co-ops, data collection focuses on what is beneficial for communities. They decide which data are collected about them and for what purpose. To avoid mission creep, data cooperatives need to adhere to the globally shared definition of what makes an organization a cooperative:
A cooperative is defined as an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.
This definition matters as it emphasizes that cooperatives are autonomous and organized voluntarily to meet local needs. Imposing the cooperative model is unhelpful and possibly harmful.