Neelie Kroes: Data isn’t a four-letter word

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IAPP Europe Data Protection Congress/Brussels

You have been talking intensively about data; and how to protect it.  I want to talk about data too: the opportunity as well as the threat.  Making data the engine of the European economy: safeguarding fundamental rights capturing the data boost, and strengthening our defences.  Data is at a cross-roads.

We have opportunities; open data, big data, datamining, cloud computing.  Tim Berners Lee, creator of the world wide web, saw the massive potential of open data. As he put it, if you put that data online, it will be used by other people to do wonderful things, in ways that you could never imagine.  On the other hand, we have threats: to our privacy and our values, and to the openness that makes it possible to innovate, trade and exchange.  Get it right and we can safeguard a better economic future. Get it wrong, and we cut competitiveness without protecting privacy.

So we remain dependent on the digital developments of others: and just as vulnerable to them.  How do we find that balance? Not with hysteria; nor by paralysis. Not by stopping the wonderful things, simply to prevent the not-so-wonderful. Not by seeing data as a dirty word.  We are seeing a whole economy develop around data and cloud computing. Businesses using them, whole industries depending on them, data volumes are increasing exponentially. Data is not just an economic sideshow, it is a whole new asset class; requiring new skills and creating new jobs.  And with a huge range of applications. From decoding human genes to predicting the traffic, and even the economy.

Whatever you’re doing these days, chances are you’re using big data (like translation, search, apps, etc).  There is increasing recognition of the data boost on offer. For example, open data can make public administrations more transparent and stimulate a rich innovative market. That is what the G8 Leaders recognised in June, with their Open Data Charter. For scientists too, open data and open access offer new ways to research and progress.  That is a philosophy the Commission has shared for some time. And that is what our ‘Open Data’ package of December 2011 is all about. With new EU laws to open up public administrations, and a new EU Open Data Portal. And all EU-funded scientific publications available under open access.

Now not just the G8 and the Commission are seeing this data opportunity: but the European Council too. Last October, they recognised the potential of big data innovation, the need for a single market in cloud computing; and the urgency of Europe capitalising on both.  We will be acting on that. Next spring, I plan a strategic agenda for research on data. Working with private partners and national research funders to shape that agenda, and get the most bang for our research euro. Here to read more.

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