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The European Commission is preparing legislation to provide a huge data set that can be accessed free of charge. This should make it easier for European companies, research institutes and governments to use this data and stimulate innovation. The new rules for this must be published in 2022. This is stated in the data strategy plan that the European Commission published last month.

Less power for Google and Facebook

According to the European Commission, this will create an internal market for data  which can compete with the data collection activities of the American Big Tech companies Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google. These companies currently control most of the European data market.

At the moment, 80% of the data is stored in data centers that are primarily owned by American tech companies. The European Commission foresees that this will be subject to change in the future.

By 2025, 80 % of this data will be stored in equipment that collects this data using sensors. This is because the number of devices using IoT, ‘the Internet of Things’, is set to increase. These types of devices do not store data in data centers, but instead in auxiliary equipment which is referred to as the ‘edge’.

Data spaces for nine sectors such as healthcare and agriculture

In addition, separate data spaces have to be created for the various economic and social sectors. This is one of the reasons why a data storage standard must be created to make it easier to process different data sets. If all companies use separate protocols for this, this could hamper efficient use of data.

Also read: EU Commissioner Vestager to present new AI law at the start of 2020

The European Commission’s data strategy has singled out nine sectors that should be given their own data space. The (manufacturing) industry, activities related to the implementation of the European Green Deal, mobility, healthcare, financial services, energy, agriculture, public administration, and the labor market.

Running the EU like a company

The labor market is of particular interest from a political point of view. Its aim is to prevent shortages and surpluses of specific qualities and skills across the Member States’ labor markets. By tackling this issue in this manner, the EU is starting to look more and more like a company that the European Commission wants to run efficiently. And which therefore should be given a personnel plan for its (future) internal market.

In any event, the European Commission has to date never intervened in these kinds of matters before.

European mega-library for free data

A mega-library of digital data will eventuate if these nine data spaces really get off the ground. This will enable the European Union to conquer the current hegemony of American technology companies that dominate the Big Data market. That would be a good thing for European Commissioner Vestager (portfolios Competition and Digitization) in her battle against the abuses of their market power. A problem that she has so far been unable to address, despite several lawsuits and billions in fines.

Time will tell if the plan succeeds. Among the Member States, differences are considerable in data storage use via the cloud. (The latter is indispensable when it comes to creating such huge data spaces). In one Member State, 65 % of companies already use a cloud to store data. Whereas in another, only 10 % use it.

In addition, the citizens of the various European member states will need to be given comprehensive training in the use of computers and the digitalization of their business operations.

Accelerating innovation

However, the benefits will be substantial if the European plan proves successful. For example, easily accessible datasets help healthcare researchers to innovate. Analysis of such data provides insight that won’t require labor-intensive patient research.

The same applies to other sectors such as agriculture. For instance, farmers in various countries use all kinds of devices with sensors that are linked to digital platforms. That is how they measure the composition of the soil and its irrigation in relation to the growth of certain crops under variable climatic conditions.

Also read: EU research into the use of fields, manure and forests aims to restore the environment

If every farmer keeps the information about their own fields to themselves, it merely provides them with knowledge about the soil, nutrition and cultivation of their own crops. If all farmers who use these kinds of sensors share their data in the agricultural data space, and a researcher analyses this all, it can lead to new insights that will enable them to make better use of their land.