European Union Takes a Stand to Protect Industrial Data - Identity Review - Identity Review | Global Tech Think Tank

In recent years, Europe has been striving to turn the tide against an ever-growing wave of digital influence in its continent. Big tech companies based in the U.S. and China are becoming increasingly popular at a breakneck pace in European countries. Earlier, in September, Europe clocked over 100 million active TikTok users, and the continent comprises around 15% of the total Facebook user base. The prevalence of these apps in EU citizens’ daily lives have sparked concerns among European leaders as they reevaluate data privacy policies and set in place regulations regarding data sharing and exporting.

Europe Takes a Stand for Data Protection

A new legislation, the Data Governance Act, was proposed by the European Commission on November 25. In a press release announcing the act, the commission described the legislation’s mission to “facilitate data sharing across the EU and between sectors to create wealth for society, increase control and trust of both citizens and companies regarding their data, and offer an alternative European model to data handling practice of major tech platforms.”

The act introduces an EU-wide data sharing marketplace to allow companies to share industrial and government information among the bloc. In this marketplace, data would have to be protected according to European standards. It would also enable EU regulators to have visibility to enforce these privacy standards, potentially restricting data export to foreign players in China and the U.S.

Another key aspect of the act allows private citizens to share data for non-commercial purposes. Both of these parts are designed to protect industrial and government data from being shipped overseas, where tech behemoths in China and the U.S. use it to increase their presence in Europe. The idea is to keep the data local in order to help unlock economic potential for European companies.

“It [the act] offers an alternative model to the data-handling practices of the big tech platforms, which can acquire a high degree of market power because of their business models that imply control of large amounts of data,” stated within the press release.

Europe is no stranger to data protection. The bloc has gone to extensive lengths to protect private citizens’ data through the GDPR, a landmark legislation passed in 2018 that regulates how customer data should be stored, protected and transmitted. No similar law was passed to protect industrial data—until now.

“The battlefield for industrial data is starting now,” said Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for Internal Market. “While being an open continent, we are not naive.”

These protections come at a pivotal moment in data sharing when the amount of data generated is projected to multiply by five between 2018 and 2025. With the big data market worth $138.9 billion in 2020 and expected to surpass $230 billion in 2025, the European Union is hoping to help regional companies fend off foreign influences and tap into the lucrative data market.

The Future of the Data Marketplace

In recent years, countries have seen escalating measures to protect and consolidate their own data. Many of these nations are fighting for what is referred to as data sovereignty, the concept that data is subject to the laws that govern the region in which the data is collected. In August, former President Trump announced a ban on TikTok, citing national security concerns over U.S. data being owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company. Indian Minister for Communications and IT Ravi Shankar Prasad affirmed that India will “never compromise on data sovereignty” days after the country blocked 59 Chinese apps due to sovereignty and security concerns.

“Unfortunately, the internet is becoming very Balkanized,” said Christian Borggreen, vice president and head of the Brussels office at the Computer and Communications Industry Association. “If you believe in the idea of a singular internet, that is very unfortunate.”

This begs the question: Who does data belong to? Private citizens? Nations? Big tech companies? Or should it be collectively-owned and open source? One thing is clear, though: data is now being leveraged as a geopolitical bargaining chip, and those who have access to it are power brokers in the digital age.


Lydia You is a computer scientist from Princeton University living in New York City. She is a Tech Innovation Fellow at Identity Review covering the intersection of technology, internet culture and the future of digital media.

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