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Europe need not be afraid of data

Posted by Nick Prag at 29 September 2016, 16:15 CET |
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"Europe should not be afraid of data" said EU Commissioner Andrus Ansip at the Digital Assembly 2016 in Bratislava, Slovakia this week.

We are moving inexorably towards the 'Internet of Things', where our every move is monitored - who we phone, who our friends are, what we eat, what we wear, how we spend our money, how long we sleep, in fact what sort of life we like to live.

The huge amount of data that is collected from us and often shared translates into frighteningly smart phones, smart fridges, smart heating, driverless cars, and services such as e-nursing and e-health.

Cisco has estimated that 50 billion devices and objects will be connected to the internet by 2020 - far more than now.

Many businesses are very excited by this. The Internet of Things presents unprecedented opportunities for industries and businesses to sell us more things that are relevant to our individual needs.

Our lives are being transformed by data. Sophisticated data analytics uses large quantities of data to facilitate decisions in areas such as marketing and advertising, retail, urban planning, healthcare, transport and the environment.

The big data market is expected to reach EUR 50 billion and create 3.75 million new jobs by 2017.

MEP Ana Gomes, who is drafting a report on big data for the European Parliament, says a data-driven economy represents "an opportunity for growth and employment, including by enabling new business models and services and improved productivity."

But Ms Gomes also underlined, at this week's meeting of Parliament's civil liberties committee, the risks and challenges of using big data, "particularly as regards fundamental rights, including privacy and data protection.

"Some people actually pretend big data is just about statistics based on huge databases. But this is not traditional statistics because at the basis of these databases are individual data that need protection," she said.

She is promising to focus on transparency and the value and use of collected data, as well as "management rules and the ways in which the data are collected and processed", so that individuals can have right of access to information about the processing of their data.

But as the Commissioner said, we should not be afraid of data, which can provide the basis for Europe's digital future and prosperity, driving competitiveness and economic growth.

For this to happen, he said, data has to be able to move across national borders and in a single data space.

This is not where we are today in Europe, however, where cross-border data flows are constrained by "a series of legal and technical barriers", which have little to do with protecting privacy or fighting security threats.

Data localisation holds back the Digital Single Market. It is not good for Europe, its businesses or for technologies.

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Nick Prag

Nick Prag

Nick Prag is founder and managing editor of Prior to EUbusiness, he was senior editor at Europe Online SA in Luxembourg, where he played a major part in the launch of Europe Online International.