On Wednesday, the European Commission released a “European strategy for data… to ensure the human-centric development of Artificial Intelligence” and a white paper on artificial intelligence. The new documents present a timeline for various projects, legislative frameworks, and initiatives by the European Union, and represent its recognition that it is slipping behind American and Chinese innovation.
The release follows a series of meetings between Silicon Valley executives and Brussels regulators. Facebook even released its own proposal for content regulation after CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with officials in Europe. The European regulators rejected his move.
EU data strategy: What are the major takeaways?
The strategy lays out “why the EU should act now”. The blueprint hopes to strengthen Europe’s local technology market by creating a “data single market” by 2030 to allow the free flow of data within the EU.
To aid a “data-agile economy”, the Commission hopes to implement an “enabling legislative framework for the governance of common European data spaces” by the latter half of the year.
By the beginning of 2021, the Commission will make high-value public sector data available free through Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) — a pathway for two different applications to speak to each other.
Between 2021 and 2027, the Commission will invest in a High Impact Project to jump-start data infrastructure. Several other initiatives are laid out, including a cloud services marketplace.
What’s the purpose behind EU data strategy?
“The EU has the potential to be successful in the data-agile economy. It has the technology, the know-how and a highly skilled workforce. However, competitors such as China and the US are already innovating quickly and projecting their concepts of data access and use across the globe,” the strategy states.
With American and Chinese companies taking the lead on technological innovation, Europe is keen to up its own competitiveness. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen wrote: “… I believe we need a digital transition which is European by design and nature… As part of this, big commercial digital players must accept their responsibility, including by letting Europeans access the data they collect. Europe’s digital transition is not about the profits of the few but the insights and opportunities of the many. This may also require legislation where appropriate.
Has India done anything similar?
Yes. The Union Cabinet approved the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) in 2012. As part of the initiative, the government worked with the US government to release data.gov.in, a site of government data for public use.
The Economic Survey of 2018 envisioned a similar use of non-personal data. Just as the EU’s strategy discusses “data for public good”, the chapter titled “Data ‘Of the People, By the People, For the People’” advocated that the government step in to sectors that private players ignore, marking the first time India’s Economic Survey has isolated “data” as a strategic focus.
Other data integration efforts have been announced or implemented by NITI Aayog (the National Data & Analytics Platform), the Smart Cities Mission (India Urban Data Exchange), and the Ministry of Rural Development (DISHA dashboard). In 2018, the National Informatics Centre worked with PwC and other vendors to create a Centre of Excellence for Data Analytics aimed at providing data analysis help to government departments.
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What does the EU move mean for legislation?
Europe has been a frontrunner when it comes to technology regulation. Its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) released in 2018 was a game-changer across the industry. In the recent strategy, the GDPR is seen as giving the “solid framework for digital trust.”
Parliamentarians are discussing India’s current Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill in a Joint Select Committee. The recent draft of the PDP introduced a clause on non-personal data, mandating entities to hand over such data to the government on command. This was not included in the draft proposed by the Justice B N Sri Krishna Committee in October 2018.
Some of the movement around the PDP Bill comes from a desire to strengthen India’s own data economy, similar to the EU’s desire. At the IAMAI digital summit in early February, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said: “I am very keen that India should become a centre for data processing.”
What does it mean for governments and technology companies?
Beyond the specifics of the documents, the politics at play between governments and technology companies is making headlines more and more often.
Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai and Microsoft’s Brad Smith visited Brussels last month. Zuckerberg’s high-profile meetings with top officials, including EU Commissioners and the EU justice chief, were reportedly tense. A Reuters report quoted EU industry commissioner Thierry Breton as saying it was “for Facebook to adapt to Europe’s standards, not the other way round, as he criticised the US social media giant’s proposed Internet rules as insufficient.”
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The EU’s icy reception to Zuckerberg harkens to India’s own recent tension with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. “They (Amazon) may have put in a billion dollars but if they make a loss of a billion dollars every year, then jolly well will have to finance that billion dollars. So, it is not as if they are doing a favour to India when they invest a billion dollars,” Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal said in January.
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