More information, more money per capita, more opportunities
A conference in Tallinn debates whether challenges can outweigh the big chances of data economy
Maria Koleva, Brussels
22 July, 2017
It is a very simple old type of idea: more information leads to more opportunities. You realise where there are holes; you realise where there are problems and begin to think about what can be done. It means: more information, more money per capita. These are the words of one of the world’s most prominent data scientists, Professor Alex 'Sandy' Pentland of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who delivered a keynote speech at the Digital single market conference on the free movement of data, organised by the Estonian Presidency in Tallinn on 17 July. Thanks to the fact that Estonia is incredibly digitally advanced, it was possible this event to be followed through webstream from each part of the globe in real time.
The data economy guru, as the people from the branch named Prof. Pentland, pointed out that the free movement of data will lead to new business opportunities and create a favourable ground for harmonising social inequalities. It is also essential to make governments more efficient. However, he warned that “we must not forget that the free movement of data has its perils as well” and that ensuring the privacy of personal data is very important in moving and sharing of large amounts of data. The value of data will grow exponentially even if we can compare it anonymously, he said noting that comparing data is beneficial for example for better planning of public transport, the detection of infectious disease epidemics, and much more, helping countries better manage their processes and predict potential problems.
Among the participants were top-level players, EU competitiveness and telecommunications ministers, representatives of the EU Parliament and the Council of the EU, people from the public sector, businesses and academia.
It was also the first public event at her new post for the EU Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel. Saying that the European Data Economy is now truly taking off, Commissioner Gabriel underlined in her speech that the value of the EU data economy was €300 billion in 2016, representing 1.99 % of GDP. In 2016, there were 254,000 data companies, 661,000 data user companies and 6.16 million data professionals employed.
If the right policy and legislative framework conditions are put in place in time, she urged, the value of the data economy can increase to €739 billion by 2020, representing 4% of the overall EU GDP. Commissioner Gabriel also stressed that the Commission will continue supporting an open approach that ensures that the most innovative services provided globally are available in the EU.
EC Vice-President Andrus Ansip in charge of the Digital Single Market, urged that today’s situation regarding data in Europe has to change and made clear that the Commission plans to make that happen as soon as possible, as part of the plan to build a Digital Single Market. He pointed out that there is an urgent need to address the data localisation rules and “how we can further free up publicly funded data”, or how to improve data analytics capacity in Europe, among other challenges.
Ansip also touched upon the legal clarity concerning autonomous systems and how can be struck balance between the needs of users and the responsibility of operators and manufacturers, emphasising that the real value of data will only come out if it can be used to the full. One way forward would be to establish free movement of data as a basic principle in EU law, VP Ansip specified.