The EU Digital Single Market: data and its uses

Written on 7 May 2015

On 6 May 2015 the European Commission published its “Digital Single Market Strategy for Europe”. The Commission’s proposals are aimed at producing a true digital single market, one with – in President Juncker’s optimistic words – “pan-continental telecoms networks, digital services that cross borders and a wave of innovative European start-ups”.

Read more about the impact on data and its uses below.

The EU Digital Single Market Strategy is an area we will continue to monitor closely. Click here to read our latest updates and keep up to date with the developments as they happen.

Building a data economy

A priority for the Commission is ensuring that European companies are ready for “Big Data”. The Strategy paper identifies a need for action in “ownership and access to data, in big data and analytics, in cloud services, in open data and science”. In recognising the opportunities Big Data can provide, the Commission argues that technical and legislative barriers must be removed to allow the free flow of data within the EU.

“The current legal framework just focuses on the privacy aspect of data and lacks clear guidance on limitations on data privacy. Therefore, the Commission needs to be quick in adopting a legal framework which is fit for the data-driven economy in order for European business to benefit properly from the rise of the Industry 4.0.” Flemming Moos, Partner, Osborne Clarke, Hamburg.

In particular, the Commission views the growth of cloud computing, which forms a key part in the collection, analysis and storage of Big Data, as a challenging area because of the contractual limitations on future use and liability for data and lack of data portability. Overall, the Commission wants to work towards a “free flow of data” initiative to allow free movement of data and remove unjustified restrictions.

“The strategy highlights a clear tension between ensuring individuals feel comfortable using digital services because their data is protected and the ability for companies to fully realise the potential of Big Data, and this will need to be properly addressed.” –  Ann-Sophie DeGraeve, Senior Associate, Osborne Clarke, Belgium.

Interoperability

A Digital Single Market across the EU cannot develop unless there is full and unrestricted interoperability of digital components and common standards. The Commission says in its Strategy document that it is going to be taking a more ‘top down’ approach to ensuring common standards to allow the seamless flow of data, whether in transport, healthcare, mobile payments or the Internet of Things. This builds on the 2010 Europe Interoperability Framework and a 2013 initiative in which the Commission reviewed measures that could improve the licensing of interoperability information by significant market players in the ICT sector. Expect to see mandatory standards emerging over the next few years and FRAND licensing by owners of standard-essential patents, technology and interfaces. The Europe Interoperability Framework will be revised, and there will be a significant role for those responsible for public procurement in mandating common standards.

Ben Goodger, Partner, Osborne Clarke, London says: “The ambition and determination of the Commission to devise and roll out an ‘integrated standardisation plan’– without which the digital single market will never be achieved – is impressive. If done right, this should have a very real impact in achieving a unitary framework and avoiding fragmentation. Rights owners should embrace this.”

Standardisation in data formats will also be relevant when the new general EU data protection laws come into force. The new laws are likely to introduce a portability right, meaning that individuals can ask companies to transfer a copy of their data to a third party organisation. Some standardisation or common standard could make this process easier.