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Laura Vilkkonen: Europe deserves a fair, people-centred data economy

Ministry of Transport and Communications 21.11.2019 11.44
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Photo: Tommi Parkkonen, Ministry of Transport and Communications

The volume of digital data is growing exponentially. The data economy has already attained a level at which it has a major impact on economic development. In the future, data will contribute strongly to services, economic growth and competitiveness. To shield this development, we need to make sure that data is accessible, protected and secure. The data economy will be the theme of a major conference in Helsinki on 25 and 26 November.

Europe needs a clear-cut strategy for developing its data economy. During its Presidency of the Council of the European Union, Finland has focused on establishing the general principles of this strategy. Finland would like to see the EU become the locus of an ethical data economy. The EU already holds all the cards needed to make this happen.

Making data available on fair terms

Data is already making our lives easier and improving the quality of services. To consolidate this improvement, we need to focus on making data accessible. We will not be able to ensure that citizens and societies have access to the data they need when they need it unless we invest in the systematic development of the data economy.

The emphasis here should be on actions that help distribute the benefits of data equally among businesses, authorities and private individuals. Society has many basic tasks for which the people performing them will urgently need to access data held by someone else. A case in point is traffic control and traffic safety, which will require access to support data collected by autonomous transport systems on other road users, driving conditions and the state of infrastructure.

In logistics, too, digital data can help us coordinate transports of goods and thus rationalise operations, improve customer experience, save transport costs and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

However, all the good intentions in the world will lead us nowhere unless we make sure that such data is accessible, if necessary by adopting new EU-wide legislation. Access should be provided on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, always in return for compensation and on a reciprocal basis between companies, and with due respect for European rules on the protection of property rights.

Towards a thriving, people-centred data economy

We need to swap our current organisation-centred approach for a people-centred approach to data economy. People need to know which data concerning them are being stored and kept, they need to have access to this data, and they need to keep control of the purposes it is used for. Improvements in data protection and data security are likely to increase people’s trust in digital services. Europe has a genuine opportunity to make data protection a valuable asset in competing with other value systems.

Access to data enables both established and emerging sectors to create value in new ways. Unlike conventional means of production, data is not subject to wear and tear; in fact its value increases with use, as it becomes accessible to and available for use by the largest possible number of people.

The European data economy should be based on a competitive market where innovations and investments can flourish and where consumers and businesses can choose freely between a whole range of service providers. We can build a successful European data economy from these components if we choose to do so. By building a fair, thriving and people-centred European data economy, we can help the internal market make the most of digitalisation.

Finland’s Presidency may be drawing to its close, but you may be sure that we will pursue this discussion in the future.

Laura Vilkkonen, Director General, Ministry of Transport and Communications

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