The Future of our Integrated Data Economy

Digital revolution is based on data. In 2020 the value of EU data economy can double up to €739 billion or 4% of GDP.

And citizens stand to benefit: Data collected by smart sensors and our day-to-day use of products, devices and services is both cheaper and richer then experimental data. For example, such data helps developing therapies for diseases which are rare but still have a large societal effect (with 30m Europeans suffering from 6,000 rare diseases). But personalised medicine is only one application area. There is also “personalised manufacturing” with smart machinery making small production runs economically viable; reduced and optimised consumption of resources such as water and energy; more targeted use of fertilisers for more efficient agriculture; better managed traffic flows and self-driving vehicles with less environmental impact … the list goes on.

But a lot of data is needed for such applications. Artificial intelligence and machine learning also needs massive amounts of data for training. In this perspective, government- induced data collection (e.g. in China) or relatively wide availability of customer and social media data (e.g. in the US) have given an early competitive advantage to other parts of the world.

However, the economy is a long game, and in the longer term citizens’ trust will be essential.
First, because relevant data often is personal data. Not least since the Snowden revelations, citizens are more and more uncomfortable with data collection and processing and may opt out from data-driven services. Therefore business models which rely on intrusive use of citizens’ data for improving products and services targeting these very same citizens are inherently unsustainable.

Second, because the use of digital products and services themselves is constrained by widespread security concerns. The number, complexity and scale of cybersecurity incidents and their impact on the economy and society continue to grow. The parallel explosion of the number of internet of things devices will increase the “attack surface” manifold. It is predicted that cybercrime will cost businesses globally more than €5 trillion per year by 2021.

In Europe we have started addressing these challenges already many years ago and this is why

I am convinced that Europe is well positioned for benefiting even more during the next phase of the digital development.

With the EU’s general data protection regulation coming into force in May 2018, and a proposal for a regulation on e-privacy also making its way through the legislature, we have created the right framework for personal data. Reinforced rules on consent, and new rights to access, remove or port data put the citizen at the centre.

For cybersecurity, the network and information security directive brings new rules for operators of essential services and for digital service providers. We have also proposed to strengthen the Union’s Cybersecurity Agency, ENISA, and an EU-wide security certification framework. Such measures protect European citizens, businesses, and public institutions against increasing cyber threats.

In addition to these overarching protections, we also need specific policies and technologies. For personal data, one building block are personal information management services (also called “personal data stores”, “personal data spaces” or similar) which empower citizens to participate actively in the data economy. This is a paradigm shift because the individual is in control and decides who has access, how the data can be used, and under which conditions, all built on secure and standardised protocols. Both start-ups and major operators are active in an emerging ecosystem and the EU is supporting related research and innovation projects. Such technical developments reinforce policy measures for the data economy, and vice versa. For example, the more citizens use such services, the faster the “once only principle”, which foresees that individuals and organisations should not have to provide their digital information anew to every company or public administration they interact which, will become a reality.

For non-personal data (which includes previously personal data which has been irreversibly aggregated or anonymised), the European Commission has recently proposed a “free flow of data” principle, doing away with unjustified requirements for storing data at a specific geographical location.Moreover, we are working on an update of relevant legislation to make sure more data generated by the public sector, or with public funding, becomes open data accessible for re-use. And we fund work on data technologies and formats, including at the standardisation stage, to facilitate the use and also the exchange of data.

Like any industrial paradigm shift, the data economy creates new job profiles and requires new skills. Today it already employs more than 6m data professionals. This could increase by more than 10% per year to over 10m by 2020. But we need to make sure that the new skills are taught and learned throughout the EU. Otherwise the gap between open positions and available professionals could widen from 420,000 to almost 3m in2020.

In short: With the right actions on skills, investments and policies the EU’s citizens and society stand to gain a lot from our integrated data economy.