European Commission makes big cloud data-sharing play

rsula von der Leyen European Commission European leader

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 applications.

“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 administrations.

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 respected.”

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 infrastructures.

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 Unit.