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Having it right doesn’t matter, if nobody gets your point

The data will be the most valuable natural resource of the 21st century, but the debate over data economy is immature. Even the experts mix apples with oranges. We need open discussion and a common language on the case.


Markus Kalliola

Project Director, Well-being solutions


I participated a very interesting seminar organized by ETSI and called Releasing the Flow – Data Protection and Privacy in a Data-Driven Economy.

The setting was perfect. Besides interesting topics, +20 degrees and sunny location in Nice Southern France had drawn the room full of brilliant people. Lawyers, telecom professionals, security experts, European Commission directors, data protection authorities, one Senior Lead from the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra and many others from all over the world discussing the hot topics. I was excited. Maybe I will go home with answers to some open questions and take the Sitra’s new IHAN initiative a small step forward.

I am currently sitting on a plane watching happy tourists returning home. It is not the plane I was supposed to take, but that is another story. I bet nobody is thinking GDPR or data economy. How satisfied they all are talking about swimming pools and martinis by the beach. That is fine with me. But leaving the discussion of data economy and personal data to experts has a drawback. There is simply too much niche expertise and every expert is right on their own. But they don’t share the common vision or even understand each other.

What is the benefit of having it right, if nobody gets your point? That question buzzed on my mind during the seminar like a trapped bee in a matchbox. Legal articles, security labels, granular consents, privacy by design, privacy by default, standards, code of conducts, self-regulation and you don’t want me to continue really. Everything is important, but nobody seems to go to the root of all this. Not seeing the forest from the trees, I guess.

Before joining the Sitra I worked in the European Commission. One day we got a new Director General and he organized an event where everyone could ask questions. One of my IT colleagues did. It was followed by a short silence. Then the DG answered “I have studied anthropology. IT people are a tribe like the Vatican people. They have created a language of they own to which they claim monopoly over.”

We need a way out of this with data economy. I am surer than anything that data will be the most valuable natural resource of the 21st century and the success of our society will depend on how well we utilize it to benefit business, health, environment and basically any part of life. Even artificial intelligence which many see as a silver bullet for many problems is like a fish out of water without data.

We cannot leave the debate over data economy to experts only. It is simply too important. And we don’t want purely market driven rules or rules created by states which ethics are very different from ours. Read the latest article from Emmanuel Macron in Wired or Alexander Stubb in Aamulehti (article in Finnish), if you don’t believe me. According to them our democracy is at stake. So, we need a common language on data economy followed by European public debate which leads into human-driven data economy which is both economically viable and respects personal data and privacy.

Another sparkling wine for the person next to me. Another toast with her fellow passenger. I am drinking sparkling water and typing this. I guess we cannot all be happy at the same time. I have more questions than answers when starting the day, but I am surer than before that I am working towards something big.


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