In addition to open borders and protections on cheese, the 27 countries of the European Union may soon form a single market for data.
Data would flow within the EU and across sectors by 2030, according to a recent proposal. This complex stream of information would also adhere to EU law, in particular privacy, data protection and competition laws.
It’s a good time to think about harnessing this hot commodity, which has been compared to both oil and sunlight.
Global data production is booming, from 33 zettabytes in 2018 to an estimated 175 zettabytes in 2025. Crucially, how that data is stored is also expected to flipflop in the next five years, from the bulk of it housed in data centers and computing facilities moving to the edge as connected devices become more common.
By creating the first global single market for data, the EU hopes to gain first mover economic advantage. The EU made a first step in that direction with The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), in effect since 2018 and a model for California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA.)
“Data is the lifeblood of economic development: it is the basis for many new products and services, driving productivity and resource efficiency gains across all sectors of the economy, allowing for more personalised products and services and enabling better policy making and upgrading government services.”
But it’s not just about a steady stream of euros. “In a society where individuals will generate ever-increasing amounts of data, the way in which the data are collected and used must place the interests of the individual first, in accordance with European values, fundamental rights and rules.”
To boost voluntary participation, the European Strategy for data proposal reminds businesses that they’ll also share access to other data, analytics, services and license fees.
There’s another reason for the EU government to define this market now. Late in 2019, Germany announced plans to build Gaia-x a “federated data infrastructure,” described as a club of clouds whose members have to comply with a set of rules and standards. Unsurprisingly, United States tech giants Google and Microsoft aren’t on board. A Microsoft spokesperson said digital sovereignty is a legitimate goal, adding, “in the cloud age, however, we think it is wrong to define sovereignty solely along territorial borders.” Instead, sovereignty needs “the most powerful cloud solution.”
It remains to be seen who has the power to build that Europe-wide solution.
Cover photo Credit: NASA/GSFC