European Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton – AP Photo / Olivier Matthys
The EU is working on a new set of rules that should give companies easier access to public and personal data. Europe is thus mirroring the more flexible rules in the US and Asia. Underlying idea: tech companies in those regions were able to develop faster thanks to more available data. But the elephant in the room is Europe’s privacy law GDPR.
The easing that is on the table is significant. For example, companies that want to use the data no longer have to have their headquarters in Europe. The data should also no longer ‘remain’ on European territory. There must always be a local representative for data access.
The goal of European Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton is clear. “Given the ever-growing importance of data on an industrial scale in our economy, Europe needs an open yet sovereign unified data market,” he says. The new rules are to make the old continent the world’s most important ‘data continent’.
In concrete terms: by giving companies more access to data on which they can try out ideas, these companies will be able to develop new services and products more easily. Research institutions would also benefit from the new rules to help tackle ‘societal challenges’.
Innovation versus GDPR
However, those noble intentions have a major enemy: the General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR. A set of rules, converted by member states into the necessary laws, to prevent data abuse. With these rules, Europe is a worldwide pioneer in the field of data protection.
It is not immediately clear how the new rules can be reconciled with the GDPR. The EU ensures that it will continue to apply to companies that want to work with European data under the new rules. That is to say: building in technical solutions to protect privacy. For example, personal data should always be anonymised before companies can view them.
History shows, however, that a set of anonymized data can often yield a lot of personal information when crossed with other information. So, the challenge for European institutions is to stay ahead of smart, innovative companies before turning the world’s largest data market into the world’s greatest privacy nightmare.