A European Commission (E.C.) project to promote big data on the continent has been met with positive reviews. But some warn it could chafe against Europe’s efforts to protect privacy.
The E.C. announced a €2.5 billion ($3.94 billion) public-private partnership (PPP) on October 13 to strengthen Europe’s data sector, and put Europe “at the forefront of the global data race.”
The E.C. will contribute €500 million ($639 million) towards the plan, with the remaining €2 billion ($2.55 billion) contributed by private partners such as Orange, SAP and Siemens working with the Big Data Value Association. The project will begin on January 1 2015.
Worldwide data is growing by 40% year-on-year. Each minute 1.7 billion bytes of data is created. According to the E.C., the project could result in up to 30% of the global data market heading to European suppliers and 100,000 data-related jobs being added by 2020. The commission also claims the project will reduce energy consumption by 10%, and lead to improvements in healthcare and heavy industry.
“Data is the motor and foundation of the future economy,” said Neelie Kroes, whose four-year tenure as E.C. vice-president comes to a close this month. “Every kind of organization needs the building blocks to boost their performance, from farm to factory, from the lab to the shop floor.”
Frank Buytendijk, VP of research at Gartner, agrees with the E.C.’s jobs claim. “Our own projections talked about 4.4 million jobs worldwide, of which 29% would be in Europe,” he said. “In this projection we did cast a very wide net.”
The most important uses of big data, claimed Buytendijk, are customer experience and customer intimacy, followed by operational excellence, risk management and new business models. “In our surveys we see that more than 70% of companies are already investing in some way in big data,” he added. “In many cases still an investment in time, as only slightly more than 10% of companies have something in production, but nevertheless, it is not something new.”
A spokesman for the Big Data Value Association told Red Herring that U.S. firms like Facebook and Google are leading the way in the use of big data. But the coming together of European resources shows signs it could edge ahead in years to come. “I don’t think that there is, per se, a leadership indicator,” he said.
“There is leadership by-and-large from companies in the U.S. I think an indication whether Europe is forward-thinking, is that we have got our act together to identify a joint activity to do something to support leadership.”
Gregory Piatetsky, president of KDNuggets and big data expert, agrees that “for big data to be effective in Europe, it should move freely across borders,” But, he adds, “a single market is not required.”
A new study commissioned by Telefonica reveals that today’s 18-30-year-olds – ‘millennials’ – feel “pretty much in control of their personal online data”. But the Spanish telco is still calling for data protection reform to extend confidence to other age groups.
And there are doubts that the 2020 plan can work effectively alongside the E.U.’s strident views on privacy, which are in stark contrast to the position taken in the U.S.
“I believe big data and privacy will create some tension in the E.U.,” said Gartner’s Carsten Casper. “Privacy proponents and big data champions within the E.U. are not necessarily on the same side. But that’s already an issue within the E.U. – tensions between the E.U. and the U.S. can exacerbate this further.
“In other words, I can imagine scenarios where the FTC and the Article 29 WP party pull the privacy end of the rope in a tug of war, and industry lobbyists in both the U.S. and Europe pull the other end, hailing big data successes and promoting use cases that the privacy folks find intruding,” added Casper. “The divide is per objective, not per country.”
“Carsten provides a good perspective from a political point of view,” said Buytendijk. “From a social point of view, we don’t see a huge difference in concerns about privacy in various parts of the world. U.S., Europe, Japan. [They all experience] the same issues.”