With push for data democratization, Intel tries to play both sides of the big data debate

Intel (s intc) has been taking steps in recent months to promote the democratization of consumer data — the idea that consumers should be able to check out the information that companies are collecting on them — even though it might not be immediately obvious how the chip maker could generate revenue through the initiatives, according to an article from the MIT Technology Review.

Intel Labs is engaged in a research partnership with wethedata.org, a “hub of conversation, news, and events celebrating innovative communities who are each focused on democratizing data in their own way.” Intel also has contributed to a hackathon for building tools consumers can use to understand publicly available data, and it’s sponsoring the National Day of Civic Hacking for getting people across the country to come up with ways to analyze open data sets.

It’s somewhat surprising for Intel to be pushing for data democratization. Intel chips are at the heart of servers THAT companies and government organizations use to crunch heavy loads of consumer data. And Intel also has come out with its own Hadoop distribution for handling big data.

The sort of rhetoric floating around the Wethedata.org site — “we are the customer, but our data are the product. … How do we regain more control over what happens to our data and what is targeted at us as a result?” — seems more likely to come from a nonprofit or even a government agency than from a collaboration that includes a corporation such as Intel. But that might help explain why the efforts are noteworthy.

Intel isn’t the only one active on this front. Andreas Weigend, a former chief scientist at Amazon.com, (s amzn) often raises the topic with executives in his consulting work with big companies around the world, partly because some data is simply wrong, and consumers ought not be penalized for it. And as the MIT Technology Review article notes, legislators have taken stabs at the issue, albeit with little success so far.

Now that Intel is on board, perhaps more tech companies will join in and the prompt the tide to change. And if that happens, interesting questions would arise, such as how exactly companies would roll out more data on its customers, whether companies should give consumers access to algorithms that factor into decision-making and how much visualization software and other tools should be made available.

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock user Lasse Kristensen.