New Study: Companies are Increasingly Making Data Accessible to Academic Researchers, but Opportunities Exist for Greater Collaboration


November 14, 2017
Contact: Melanie Bates, Director of Communications, [email protected] 

New Study: Companies are Increasingly Making Data Accessible to Academic Researchers, but Opportunities Exist for Greater Collaboration

Washington, DC – Today, the Future of Privacy Forum released a new study, Understanding Corporate Data Sharing Decisions: Practices, Challenges, and Opportunities for Sharing Corporate Data with Researchers. In this report, FPF reveals findings from research and interviews with experts in the academic and industry communities. Three main areas are discussed: 1) The extent to which leading companies make data available to support published research that contributes to public knowledge; 2) Why and how companies share data for academic research; and 3) The risks companies perceive to be associated with such sharing, as well as their strategies for mitigating those risks.

“More widespread access to corporate data sets would support new scholarship and allow researchers to consider questions that cannot fully be answered from publicly available data alone,” said Leslie Harris, FPF Senior Fellow and Understanding Data Sharing Decisions’ Principal Researcher. “In this exploratory study, we aim to contribute to the literature by seeking the ‘ground truth’ from the corporate sector about the challenges they encounter when they consider making data available for academic research.”

Of the companies interviewed, 70% report making at least some data available to academic researchers. Half of the sharing companies began making data available to external researchers within the last five years. Close to half of the interviewed companies said that the main reason for sharing data for research was to obtain insights that would help the company “better execute” or “better understand” their mission. A number of companies also said that sharing data for research helped to build their brands, strengthen relationships with academics, and attract talent to the company. The study also found that companies are concerned about privacy, particularly the risk of re-identification. Companies are equally concerned that sharing data for research might diminish or destroy the intellectual property value of their data.

FPF identified several opportunities to promote data-driven research: 1) to enhance the positive public profile of company/academic data sharing; 2) to help mitigate perceived risks, particularly privacy and re-identification risks; 3) to develop and share tools for public outreach and community engagement; 4) to encourage peer-to-peer knowledge sharing; and 5) to create a clearinghouse identifying data types desired by academics.

“We hope that the impressions and insights gained from this first look at the issue will help formulate further research questions, inform the dialogue between key stakeholders, and identify constructive next steps and areas for further action and investment,” said Jules Polonetsky, FPF’s CEO.

FPF released Understanding Data Sharing Decisions today at the ADRF Network Inaugural Conference during the session on Expanding Private Sector Administrative Data Access. The focus of the discussion centered around why and how companies share data for academic research, strategies for mitigating risks and building trust, and recommendations for encouraging company-academic data sharing.

FPF would like to thank Leslie Harris (FPF Senior Fellow), the Principal Researcher of this report, and Chinmayi Sharma (University of Virginia School of Law), Research Assistant.  FPF gratefully acknowledges the support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for this project.


The Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) is a non-profit organization that serves as a catalyst for privacy leadership and scholarship, advancing principled data practices in support of emerging technologies. Learn more about FPF by visiting