Towards a Data-Driven Economy in Europe

Elena Alfaro Vision&Values

The implications of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution (i.e. the fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres) across policymaking are hard to fully measure. Recently I was invited by the think tank Friends of Europe to explore, in collaboration with other stakeholders, the steps that must be taken to enhance transatlantic cooperation, and also to help Europe shape how its digital skills, labor market and regulatory framework should evolve. For instance, Andrus Ansip, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, went through some of the achievements Europe accomplished, like the elimination of roaming within the EU, and the Free Data Flow Initiative. However he pointed out that the biggest obstacle for a true digital single market are the Member States and their domestic policies.

My contribution discussed the role of data in the digital economy, and on how Europe could take a step further to allow the data-driven economy flourish. Here a summary of the 10 aspects I think need particular focus to deal with data and analytics innovation and data protection in a coordinated way:

  1. Citizens data literacy, as today we are living a dual situation where people give away their data without control, but at the same time complain about data usages that might be good for society, like investigating with health data.
  2. Linked to that, there is a need for more transparency from companies and governments in how they use data. This should be promoted and seen as a business advantage, and not just something to comply with legally.
  3. Data security research coordination, so we get to global standards that warrantee protection against cybercrime. For example using blockchain technologies for distributed identity and data management.
  4. Data flow and data storage. There is a good effort here with the free data flow initiative, but still we experience many stoppers and delays when we want to use cloud storage and cloud tools.
  5. Algorithm protection and interpretability. Investments in algorithm development are high, and the companies should be able to decide if they want to protect them or open them up. Interpretability of algorithms is also mandatory in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), but here further discussions should be allowed, so the industries can work on explaining complex models that work better that those that are simpler and therefore easier to understand for a human.
  6. Data anonymisation and the usage of anonymised & aggregated data. There are many opportunities in the usage of this type of non-personal data, both for companies and for the society as a whole, but still lack of clarity on the cases where this is allowed.
  7. Link to previous aspect, open data policies, not only for the public sector, and promoting that this actually happens. Today a company that opens its data has many more risks than rewards, so this is why almost no one is doing it.
  8. The right to data portability in all sectors, as a way to promote fair competition and innovation in data services. This data portability will be mandatory in 2018 for the financial sector according to the PSD2 regulation, but not for the rest of the sectors, although GDPR introduces it as an important aspect data innovation.
  9. The harmonization of data legislations in all the state members, so a digital businesses can operate in all of them with no frontiers. Today a digital company has to comply with 25 different regulations if it wants to operate in the EU. This is affordable for the digital giants, but prohibitive for a European startup.
  10. How AI will impact labor markets, and how can we help them adapt as fast as we can.

This is a non-exhaustive list of regulatory, cultural and educational factors that in my opinion have to be considered at the same time by the EU, the Member States and the companies operating in Europe. I look forward to continue the discussion in similar events that will take place during spring 2017.