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Attitudes to the responsible use of data are leading to a chasm between companies and customers

Under what rules do companies want to use people’s data? Surveys conducted by Sitra in four countries indicate that people have a growing desire to be able to identify companies that use data responsibly. However, companies’ willingness to respond to this is waning.


People increasingly expect to benefit more from the data collected about them. This attitude has become more common in Europe in recent years, as revealed by the surveys Sitra conducted in co-operation with Taloustutkimus and Innolink in Finland, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

The surveys shed light on people’s hopes and needs as well as companies’ attitudes to and preparedness and requirements for developing a human-driven data economy as an alternative to state or data monopoly dominance. Nowadays, data accumulated from the daily use of digital services mostly benefits a handful of large multinational corporates.

In recent years, Europe has seen the emergence of initiatives for developing a joint European fair data economy. These are founded upon European values and people’s right to self-determination when it comes to data use. A key element in this development is the GAIA-X project, launched as a joint German-French initiative and aimed at building a data infrastructure. Sitra co-ordinates this work in Finland: the intention is to bring the parties and their projects together and to create a direct channel of influence to the rest of Europe.

A majority think a fair data label is important

The surveys commissioned by Sitra show that the European values underpinning a human-driven approach are still not being replicated in the operations of companies when it comes to the use of data. More than two thirds of the four countries’ inhabitants (71%) consider a fair data label important for distinguishing responsible digital services from other services. This percentage has risen since the previous survey among the general public, conducted in 2018, when it was 66%. Among Germans, the share that considers the label important is 75%.

Companies though have a different view – the label is not considered important. Only 41% of the responding companies see benefits in a fair data label targeted at consumers. Among all the reference countries, Finland is the one in which companies have least faith in the label (32%). On average, companies in the reference countries considered the label less significant than in 2019 (45%), when the last survey of firms was carried out.

In addition, fewer companies than two years ago believe the data economy offers a competitive edge, the percentage having decreased from 58 to 48%.

Consequently, it can be noted that in the survey countries there is a chasm opening up between people and companies when it comes to the rules of data use.

Data protection seems difficult and companies’ compliance with the GDPR is patchy

The surveys reveal that people living in the reference countries understand the terms and conditions of digital services poorly. Less than half (42%) understand the terms and conditions of applications or services well – the lowest reported rate of understanding is in Finland (41%), the highest in Germany (46%).

However, the use of measures to protect one’s own data and to make related requests has increased in three years. In the 2018 survey of consumers, 29% of respondents had taken measures made possible by the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR); now, the corresponding figure is 37%. Finns have been the least active in making use of the GDPR (33%) while Germans have been the most active (42%). The General Data Protection Regulation entered into force in May 2018.

At the same time, the survey reveals that nearly two thirds of the companies within the scope of the survey are not able to comply with the GDPR in such a way that allows data collected about an individual to be made available to that individual for transfer to another service.

However, almost half (47%) of the companies feel that they have the needed skills to function as an active member of the data economy. The biggest challenge for development reported by the respondents was the complexity of legislation.

The purpose of Sitra’s Fair data economy theme is to build a human-driven, fair data economy based on European values as an alternative to a state-driven or data monopoly-driven data economy. We promote changes in economic structures, such as regulation and rules, increase individuals’ opportunities to influence the use of data and offer practical tools to companies operating in the data markets.

The data economy is broken and Sitra is inviting a host of different parties to join the effort to fix it by attending the international Dawn of the fair data economy event on 2 June 2021 between 1 and 5 p.m. The event will bring together experts in the field to discuss the current state of data economy, to become inspired by future prospects and to learn more about Sitra’s journey as champions of fairer data business practices and data economy regulation since 2018.

Survey materials

The use of digital services 2021 report and the summary article
The future of European companies in data economy 2021 report and the summary article

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