ANNOUNCEMENT – Call for Comment on GDPR Article 40 Working Group on Access to Data Held by Digital Platforms for the Purposes of Social Scientific Research
The European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO) announces a call for comments from interested stakeholders regarding EDMO’s intention to launch a new Working Group on ‘Access to Data Held by Digital Platforms for the Purposes of Social Scientific Research.’ The working group’s specific task will be to develop a Code of Conduct under Article 40 of the General Data Protection Regulation.
Since its adoption, there has been extensive debate regarding the implications of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for the sharing of digital platform data for independent research purposes. Recognizing its broad societal value, the GDPR provides a special, more permissive regime for the processing of personal data for scientific research. The European Data Protection Supervisor has acknowledged the value of scientific research for democratic societies, and affirmed the right of researchers ‘operating within ethical governance frameworks’ to process personal data.
Several digital platforms have themselves agreed to provide greater access to their data for independent research as part of the EU Code of Practice on Disinformation. However, researchers have voiced strong dissatisfaction with the steps taken under the Code of Practice, and formal evaluations of the implementation of the Code of Practice have found the platforms could do more to ensure researchers’ access. Yet, in this and similar matters, platform company representatives have repeatedly cited the GDPR as a barrier to sharing further data with researchers, arguing that the law is unclear about the mechanisms for, and legal implications of, data sharing.
Article 40 of the GDPR provides a potential remedy for this situation. Under Article 40, stakeholders may develop a Code of Conduct that lays out how the GDPR might be put into practice in a ‘specific, practical and precise manner’  and establish a monitoring body to oversee implementation of the Code. Such codes must be approved by a relevant data protection authority.
A number of experts in this area have pointed to the value of pursuing an Article 40 Code of Conduct specifically designed to address digital platform data access for independent research, as it may reduce the legal uncertainties and risks inherent for the platforms, while simultaneously offering researchers a clearer route to data access that is overseen and enforced by an independent monitoring body.
The European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO) brings together fact-checkers, media literacy experts, and academic researchers to understand and analyse disinformation, in collaboration with media organisations, online platforms and media practitioners. One of EDMO’s objectives is to help members of its community access data for research purposes, including data that is under the control of digital platforms.
EDMO believes that there may be significant value in initiating a process to develop a Code of Conduct for the sharing of data between digital platforms and academic researchers in the EU. The process of working through the elements needed to construct such a Code is also likely to have value in itself if it brings all parties together to work through the legal questions and proposed solutions that they each believe are important.
EDMO recognizes that it is not a body of data protection experts, but given its relationship with many of the key parties and mandate to work on research data, EDMO can play a useful convening role.
Call for Comments:
EDMO envisions a Working Group comprising 10-15 members from academia, industry, civil society, and relevant legal fields, with its chair selected by EDMO’s Advisory Board. This core group would develop mechanisms for engagement and consultation with much wider constituencies of people representing service users, academia, industry, civil society, and public authorities.
As EDMO explores this possibility further, we are especially interested in feedback in these four areas –
- Whether you agree with (a) the principle that it would be helpful to develop a Code of Conduct as proposed and (b) that EDMO is a good body to lead this;
- Analyses of where you think there are legal or technical questions related to access to research data that the group would need to address;
- Expressions of interest from associations or individuals in contributing to the work of the group;
- Offers of resources to support the work of the group, whether in terms of direct financial contributions or help in-kind. (EDMO will manage this initial open consultation with its existing funding but would need to find significant new resources to support the activities of the Working Group.)
This call is open for a period of one month, until 24 December 2020, after which EDMO will work through the input and decide on whether to set up the Working Group early in 2021.
 See, for example, GDPR art. 14.5.b, art. 17.3.b, and art. 89.2.
 European Data Protection Supervisor, A preliminary opinion on data protection and scientific research, 6 January 2020, p. 2.
 European Data Protection Board, Guidelines 1/2019 on Codes of Conduct and Monitoring Bodies under Regulation 2016/679, 4 June 2019, p. 15.
 Idem, p. 12.
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