OPAL (for “Open Algorithms”) is a non-profit socio-technological innovation developed by a group of partners around the MIT Media Lab, Imperial College London, Orange, the World Economic Forum and Data-Pop Alliance, aiming to unlock the potential of private sector data for public good purposes by “sending the code to the data” in a safe, participatory, and sustainable manner. It is designed to provide a far better picture of human reality to official statisticians, policymakers, businesses, and citizens, while fostering inclusion and inputs of all on the kinds and uses of analysis performed on data about them.
To date, using ‘big data’ sources collected by private companies (such as “Call Detail Records” by telecom operators) for research and policy purposes has been a conundrum, for legitimate ethical and commercial reasons. There is ample evidence that computational analyses of these fine-grained datasets can shed light on socio-economic outcomes and processes at levels of granularities and degrees of complexities never seen before, and inform better decisions to fight poverty, inequality, diseases, crime, urban congestion, and more. But there are no systems and standards developed to do this at scale, ethically. OPAL aims to do just that.
OPAL combines a state-of-the-art privacy-preserving technology and a participatory governance system with an ethical oversight body and capacity building activities. It started in 2017 with pilots in Colombia and Senegal in partnership with their governments and 2 major telecom operators, Orange-Sonatel and Telefónica Colombia, with funding from the French Development Agency (AFD). It ambitions to expand to other industries and geographies in 2019 and beyond, as a key milestone towards a vision where data is at the heart of fairer societal development around the globe.