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17th Apr 2021

EU unveils new data rules, including 'data-altruism' clause

  • Under the new rules, individuals or companies can give consent for 'data altruism' in order to share the data they generate for the common good, voluntarily and free of charge (Photo: Bob Mical)

The European Commission on Wednesday (25 November) unveiled new rules for data-governance aimed at boosting data in Europe by facilitating sharing and a so-called 'data altruism' - in a bid to compete with its Asian and American counterparts.

"With the ever-growing role of industrial data in our economy, Europe needs an open yet sovereign single market for data," said commissioner for the internal market, Thierry Breton.

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"For data to circulate, we need [people] to have confidence," he added.

The regulation, the Data Governance Act, is the first initiative under the European Strategy for Data - a proposal presented earlier this year aimed at unlocking the potential of big data, and new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Data is considered the 'fuel' for machine-learning - the branch of AI based on the ability to automatically learn and adapt to new data without human interference.

In the next years, the volume of data produced worldwide is expected to grow massively, from 33 zettabytes in 2018 to an expected 175 zettabytes in 2025. A zettabyte is one sextillion bytes, or 10 to the power 21.

The new rules will allow businesses and research organisations to tap the potential of such vast data volumes, paving the way for the creation of the nine 'sectorial European data spaces, presented in February, such as energy, public administration or mobility.

Brussels hopes that these spaces will enable data-driven solutions and innovations, such as personalised health treatments, new mobility methods or precision-farming techniques.

The rules also take into consideration EU rules for data protection (GDPR), given personal data also falls within the scope of this regulation.

The Data Governance Act offers an alternative model to the data-handling practices of the 'Big Tech' platforms, whose power over the market is directly related to their business models based on the control of large amounts of data, the commission said.

'Not for own benefit'

This approach relies on providers of data-sharing services, so-called "data intermediaries", which would organise data-sharing or pooling across sectors and member states, to increase trust.

To ensure their neutrality, they will not be able to use the data for their own benefit, for example, by selling it to another company, or using it to develop a product based on this data.

If the data intermediary is not located in the EU, a representative should be appointed to be in charge of legal procedures.

Additionally, the commission is proposing a mechanism to allow the reuse of public-sector data, which is typically "sensitive" on grounds of data protection, intellectual property or commercial confidentiality, for commercial or non-commercial proposes.

However, the right to reuse such data should not exceed a three-year contract.

Public sector bodies are not obliged to allow the reuse of data, but those allowing this type of reuse would need to be technically equipped to ensure such data protection.

Moreover, there will be certain conditions attached to the level of sensitivity of data that will be reused.

For instance, public authorities may impose an obligation to anonymise or pseudonymise personal data or delete commercially-confidential information, including trade secrets.

'Data-altruism'?

Under the new rules, individuals or companies can give consent for so-called "data altruism", in order to share the data they generate for the common good, voluntarily and free of charge.

Given that the EU has suffered from a competitive disadvantage in data-access during the first wave of digital innovations, such as social media or online shopping, the EU is now preparing for the second wave of industrial data in order to compete with the US and China.

"The battle for industrial data is starting now and the battlefield may be Europe so we need to get ready, and that is my objective," commissioner Breton said earlier this week in a webinar.

Brussels said that the new measures could increase the annual worth of data-sharing by up to €7-€11bn by 2028.

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