European Commission makes big cloud data-sharing play

While most realise the potential of extracting business value from data, it’s not that easy to do, and it’s also full of pitfalls when using citizens’ data.

The European Commission
has outlined a new pan-European data-sharing and artificial
intelligence strategy to support the growing digital economy.

The president of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen (pictured above), said: “We are presenting our ambition to shape Europe’s digital future. Our strategy covers everything from cybersecurity to critical infrastructures, digital education to skills and democracy to media. I want digital Europe to reflect the best of Europe – open, fair, diverse, democratic and confident.”

Commissioner for
internal market, Thierry Breton (the ex-CEO of Atos), said: “Our
society is generating a huge wave of industrial and public data,
which will transform the way we produce, consume and live. I want
European businesses and our many SMEs to access this data and create
value for Europeans – including developing artificial intelligence

“Europe has
everything it takes to lead the ‘big data’ race, and preserve its
technological sovereignty, industrial leadership and economic
competitiveness for the benefit of European consumers.”

Over the next five
years, the Commission will focus on three key objectives in digital:

· Technology that
works for people;

· A fair and
competitive economy; and

· An open,
democratic and sustainable society.

In a white paper the
Commission envisages a framework for trustworthy artificial
intelligence, based on “excellence and trust”. In partnership
with the private and the public sector, the aim is to mobilise
resources along the entire value chain to create the right incentives
to accelerate deployment of AI, including by smaller- and
medium-sized enterprises.

It said clear rules
need to address high-risk AI systems without putting too much burden
on less risky ones. Strict EU rules for consumer protection, to
address unfair commercial practices and to protect personal data and
privacy, will continue to apply.

For “high-risk
cases”, such as in health, policing or transport, AI systems should
be transparent, traceable and guarantee human oversight, the
Commission said. Unbiased data is needed to train high-risk systems
to perform properly, and to ensure respect of fundamental rights, in
particular non-discrimination, added the Commission.

While today, the use of
facial recognition for remote biometric identification is generally
prohibited and can only be used in exceptional, duly justified and
proportionate cases – subject to safeguards and based on EU or
national law – the Commission wants to launch a “broad debate”
about which circumstances, if any, might justify wider use.

Further, the objective
of the European data strategy is to make sure the EU becomes a “role
model” and a leader for a society empowered by data. For this, it
aims at setting up a “true European data space”, a single market
for data, to unlock unused data, allowing it to flow freely within
the European Union and across sectors for the benefit of businesses,
researchers and public administrations.

Citizens, businesses
and organisations should be empowered to make better decisions based
on insights gleaned from non-personal data. That data should be
available to all, whether public or private, start-up or giant, the
Commission said.

To achieve this, the
Commission will first propose to establish the right regulatory
framework regarding data governance, access and re-use between
businesses, between businesses and government and within

This entails creating
incentives for data sharing and establishing practical, fair and
clear rules on data access and use – which comply with European
values and rights such as personal data protection, consumer
protection and competition rules. It also means making public sector
data more widely available by opening up “high-value datasets”
across the EU and allowing their re-use to innovate on top.

Richard Baker, CEO at
spatial data firm GeoSpock, said of the plans: “The EU’s move to
create a single European market for data must be treated as a step in
the right direction.

“The Commission is
clearly trying to make up ground on US and Asian rivals in digital
innovation. However, the EU platform will suffer from the same
fundamental challenges all other cloud platforms face – namely, the
ability to scale and provide real-time insight.”

He said: “Storing
data is only part of the challenge that must be solved. For the EU
data market to truly flourish, its platform must have the ability to
index all the data from the billions of varied touchpoints and make
it instantly available for flexible querying.

“As the business
community is slowly realising, having data is one thing, but
extracting useful output that can guide actions is another.
Hopefully, the EU will heed the lessons from other global markets and
seek to work with innovative and agile companies to make our data
work for us all.”

Michael Ingrassia,
president and general counsel for data management firm Trūata, said
of the Commission’s data-sharing strategy: “What needs to be kept
front of mind in considering these proposals is the sensitive nature
of customer data. Any data-sharing would need to be handled very
thoughtfully to make sure that the focus isn’t solely on how the
value in this data can be realised by more than just a few tech
giants – but also on how the rights of the citizens can be

He said: “Data can be
the driver of growth and innovation. But the regulators discussing
this should keep in mind that this isn’t just data – there are
people behind this data. And those customers’ trust in how that
data is handled must be respected, which would certainly include,
among other measures, making sure that any data is properly
anonymised before it is shared.”

On this, Ingrassia
said: “To achieve genuine anonymisation, best industry practice is
to have an expert independently carry out the anonymisation using
cutting edge technology and techniques.”

The Commission also
says it aims to support the development of the technological systems
and the next generation of infrastructures that will enable the EU
and all players to grasp the opportunities of the data economy. It
will contribute to investments in European High Impact projects on
European data spaces and trustworthy and energy efficient cloud

Finally, it will launch
sectoral specific actions, to build European data spaces in, for
instance, industrial manufacturing, the green deal sector, mobility
or health.

The Commission will
also work to further narrow the digital skills gap among Europeans,
and explore how to give citizens better control over who can access
their machine-generated data.

Going forward, the
Commission will present later this year a Digital Services Act and a
European Democracy Action Plan, and propose a review of the eIDAS
regulation and strengthen cybersecurity by developing a Joint Cyber

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