Our thoughts on the EU Data Strategy

EU Data Strategy

A few weeks ago some team members of the Streamr project attended the MyData Global community meeting where the recent EU Data Strategy paper was discussed in detail. For those of you not familiar with the organisation, MyData Global is an NGO, working on transforming the EU’s GDPR from legal into actionable rights. We recently became official members and signed the MyData declaration, which promotes “moving towards a human-centric vision of personal data.”

Why is the EU Data Strategy important to us?

The Data Union framework we’re developing here at Streamr builds on the premise outlined in the GDPR’s article 20 on data portability, namely that:

“The data subject shall have the right to have the personal data transmitted directly from one controller to another.”

Data portability grants us the right to take the data we’ve created on one platform with us to another platform of our choosing. However, the law grants platform providers a 30-day period to make data “portable” and furthermore does not give concrete guidelines on the format in which the data is handed over. But what if people want to port, or sell their data in real-time? And yes, they do.

This is one of the topics addressed by the new EU Data Strategy. MyData’s board member Teemu Ropponen, argues that we need to:

“Move from formal to actionable rights. The rights of GDPR should be one click rights. I should not go through hurdles to delete or port my data. We need real-time access to our rights.”

Individual users should have the agency to control data about themselves. At the same time, we recognise the immense potential open access to data would bring. Digital businesses require the use of personal data but, beyond that, researchers, startups, SMEs and governments can profit from a more democratised, open access.

MyData Global has a goal to develop a fair, prosperous, human-centric approach to personal data. That means that people get value from their own data and can set the agenda on how their data is used. In order to make this a reality, the ethical use of personal data needs to be promoted as the most attractive option to businesses.

Europe is falling behind in the Data Economy

Viivi Lähteenoja, another MyData Global board member, pointed out during her presentation that Europe realises that it’s falling behind when it comes to its share in the data economy. But there is still time to change this. As stated in the recent EU Data Strategy paper:

“The stakes are high, since the EU’s technological future depends on whether it manages to harness its strengths and seize the opportunities offered by the ever-increasing production and use of data. A European way for handling data will ensure that more data becomes available for addressing societal challenges and for use in the economy, while respecting and promoting our European shared values.”

Data is absolutely crucial in solving today’s issues. Just consider the apps that are currently being built to tackle the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Developing the right tools for our society will become much easier when access to high-quality data sets becomes far easier. One important point in this will be the facilitation of data-sharing on a voluntary basis.

The EU wants to tackle this problem head-on by the creation of a European data space. This is not supposed to be about ‘one platform to rule them all’, but an ecosystem of ecosystems where all data is dealt with in accordance with European laws and values. Its creation is one of the main goals of the European Data Strategy:

“Those tools and means include consent management tools, personal information management apps, including fully decentralized solutions building on blockchain, as well as personal data cooperatives or trusts acting as novel neutral intermediaries in the personal data economy. Currently, such tools are still in their infancy, although they have significant potential and need a supportive environment.”

Personal Data Spaces — The EU’s version of Data Unions

To create better governance and control around personal data, the EU will create so-called Personal Data Spaces. These spaces will serve as neutral data brokers, between internet users and platform providers. But, as the strategy paper notes, there is currently a lack of tools for people to exercise their rights and gain value from data in a way that they want.

At Streamr, we have little doubt that our open source Data Unions framework will provide just the tools the EU is searching for and will therefore play a central role in bringing about this vision.

But here’s the catch. Sitting on the frontlines of data portability, we know that in order to make these tools a reality, the law needs to be strengthened. And soon. GDPR Article 20 needs to be amended through the European Data Act, which is to be passed in 2021, so that it allows users one-click rights. As the board members of MyData rightfully note: “Right now data portability is not good enough, what is needed is live portability.”

The EU Data Strategy was published in February and you can take a look here. If you’re interested in watching some of the presentations from the last MyData meeting, take a look here.

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