Speech by Jyrki Katainen at MyData 2022 Conference – Catalysing fair data solutions on 21 June 2022.
It’s great to see so many of you here in person. And what a pleasure it is to be speaking here with you today about data sovereignty and how we at Sitra see it. In short, data sovereignty is a core element of the fair data economy. And the fair data economy is a way to unlock opportunities that generate prosperity and solve the challenges we currently face.
Sitra is the Finnish Innovation Fund and a proud member of the MyData Global community. When Finland turned 50 years old as an independent republic, our Parliament established Sitra as a birthday gift to the Finnish people. A lot has since changed in the intervening 55 years, but Sitra still works with the same mission – to ensure competitiveness and growth to develop a successful Finland of tomorrow.
In order to attain that mission, we collaborate actively with the public and private sectors on questions concerning democracy, circular economy, climate solutions and the fair data economy. At Sitra, we believe that the future is made together.
We need data and the services derived from it in solving different crises
Collaboration is significant in these momentous and bizarre times. The world is still recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, and in Europe our security situation has rapidly changed as the result of Russia’s war on Ukraine. Amidst all this turmoil, the sustainability crisis still persists, and our future depends on the green transition. The challenges that we now face impact everyone – from children to grandparents, from start-ups to the largest companies, from scientists to politicians. These challenges are so big that they cannot be solved in isolation.
This is why it is so valuable that we meet each other in person in a conference like this. It is a good opportunity for us to discuss, share ideas, look for pathways and innovate tools. We can decide the kind of a future we want to build together and how.
And here, looking to the future, I believe that data sovereignty plays a key role.
As Sitra sees it, the fair data economy is one of the three themes that will most transform society in the future. Data is the world’s fastest growing resource. We will rely increasingly on data to build fairer services and more sustainable business models. We need data and the services derived from it in solving the sustainability crisis, in the heightened tensions of the security situation in Europe, and in fixing the many of the problems caused by the pandemic.
But the existing data economy is not yet fair. Data and the value derived from it are not equally spread in the society. As individuals, users of digital services, entrepreneurs and active participants in the society – we generate data every day, everywhere whatever we do. Yet, there is only little transparency into how this data that we generate is used, shared, or monetised. We have no control over the data that we have generated.
There is no point in demonising the digital giants – their innovations have brought us all benefits in a form or another. Nevertheless, we do not have to play by their rules but can demand fairer and more transparent practices.
We wanted to analyse who we as participants shared our data with in the digital environment. A clear conclusion from the study is that we have far too little control over or visibility concerning the use of our data. The digital giants benefit the most from this status quo at the expense of the rest of the society.
But there is no point in demonising the digital giants – their innovations have brought us all benefits in a form or another. Nevertheless, we do not have to play by their rules but can demand fairer and more transparent practices. Digital rights are ours to use.
That is why need data sovereignty and “my data” thinking to become mainstream, the new normal in the data economy. This would be a sure way of balancing the current situation so that it serves everyone fairly and sustainably.
This view is also emphasised in the European Commission’s data strategy, published in spring 2020, and the proposals for legislation that stem from it. The strategy presents a vision for society based on European values and an internal European data market. The EU’s ambition is to rise up alongside the US and China as a data economy power. The key to Europe’s success is the European data space, as envisioned by the data strategy, where data can move freely between different sectors and countries but in accordance with people’s fundamental rights and freedoms.
Now especially when Europe faces multiple complex challenges, it is important that new data legislation and policies are timely and proportionate yet true to European values and data sovereignty.
We at Sitra conducted in close collaboration with stakeholders a study on the new EU data regulation and the opportunities it opens for new business models, and individuals’ welfare.
There is no time to waste. We need to seize the opportunities from the emerging regulatory framework in the EU as early as possible and at the same time keep an eye on emerging future developments.
The data strategy and the legislative proposals shaping the data economy of the future herald change and a new era for EU policy. The way to create an internal market built on European values is by harmonising legislation between the member states and requiring that all companies, regardless of their size and domicile, are subject to the same rules.
These new rules are to be warmly welcomed. They benefit everyone who participates in the data economy. In tomorrow’s data economy, we have new and stronger means to control our data and to benefit from it in the form of such things as personalised medicine or fewer traffic jams. This is how data sovereignty can become a reality and with human welfare at the centre of the data economy.
And, sure, companies might not immediately fall in love with this new regulation, which is why it is important to note that this fair data transformation will benefit everyone – including business – and that the new regulation is an enabler. The new data regulatory environment in Europe creates opportunities for a vast number of firms. While it is true that there is a “tsunami” of new rules and compliance risks, the focus should be on the future horizon where European businesses can operate in the data economy on a more equal footing with the giants and have access to high-quality data for innovation from throughout the EU.
The new data legislation enters into force soon, in the meantime the digital economy is thriving
The revolution at hand is comparable to the “GSM moment” 20 years ago. A significant leap in development was taken in the tele markets when the goal was to enable a phone user to call their friend who was a user of another operator. When this interoperability was required of the teleoperators by the regulator, they had no other option than to adopt the GSM standard that enabled interoperability and shared databases about subscribers and visitors.
Today, we can call our friends irrespective of the operators we use, but in data sharing we face a similar situation as decades ago. The new regulatory framework in the EU requires that data moves freely between sectors and countries without stating how it should happen. We now have the chance to create similar success stories in Europe in the digital markets as we did in the telecom and financial markets of the past. And while we do that, we must ensure that data sovereignty is strongly represented and protected in the future rules and standards.
There is no time to waste. The new data legislation enters into force in a few years, and in the meantime the digital economy is constantly thriving and innovating. We need to seize the opportunities from the emerging regulatory framework in the EU as early as possible and at the same time keep an eye on emerging future developments.
Change does not happen without the active participation of people from all different walks of life. I hope that this conference will spark constructive debate and new ideas.