A guest article by Pim Korstens and Arief Huhn from FreedomLab.
Awareness of data sovereignty is clearly growing across Europe, as illustrated by the fact that people and organisations are increasingly looking for ways to gain control over their data. However, many of them still lack insight into the commercial benefits and are unsure how to put control over data into practice. These are the key findings from the Data Sovereignty Monitor report, which has been published as part of the Data Sovereignty Now campaign.
The European Union is on a mission to achieve data sovereignty. This is supported by the European Digital Strategy, which was released last year. The strategy is aimed at bringing the EU’s share of the data economy in line with the region’s traditional economic weight by 2030. The strategy itself is based upon empowering businesses and people with the right technology to gain control of their data.
To find out whether people and organisations share the EU policymakers’ data concerns, Data Sovereignty Now conducted a monitor in more than 10 countries from June to August 2021. Data Sovereignty Now is a coalition of leading Europe-based technology companies, research institutions and non-profits that are lobbying European policymakers at all levels to ensure that control over data remains in the hands of the people and organisations that generate it.
The results of the monitor have now been published in the first edition of the Data Sovereignty Monitor, and the key findings are highlighted below.
Growing awareness, but lack of economic interest
According to the monitor, the highest-ranking aspects of data sovereignty are control, trust, and transparency. This shows that the concept of data sovereignty is moving beyond the issue of privacy alone; users are putting an ever-higher value on the idea of having autonomy over their online activities and presence too.
These results demonstrate that data sovereignty is now not only a judicial and/or economic issue, but also an important social and political issue. This validates the ambition of the Data Sovereignty Now campaign and further strengthens the argument for moving the topic of data sovereignty up the political agenda.
The majority of respondents currently do not regard economic gain as an important aspect of data sovereignty. This could be due to the general lack of insight into how personal data could be monetised. It could also be part of a natural evolution in the understanding of data sovereignty and its benefits. Once the initial priorities of control, increased trust and transparency have been realised, the focus could shift to economic goals and ideas for achieving them.
Practical issues concerning data sovereignty
The monitor examined a number of practical issues concerning data sovereignty within organisations, operations and daily life. The most interesting observations can be related to the three pillars of Data Sovereignty Now as follows:
Central design principle
More than half of the respondents see data sovereignty as a corporate digital responsibility, and more than half state that it is a boardroom priority. This underlines that organisations are increasingly thinking about data sovereignty at strategic level. However, that awareness does not always translate into business practices, since many organisations are still unsure of how they can monetise their data sovereignty strategy in practice and lack a formal business model. Last but not least, most respondents state that they comply with current European data legislation, but are unprepared for the upcoming European Data Act. Further research is needed to explore where the practical and theoretical obstacles lie.
Almost a third of the respondents state that their organisation uses formal data exchange protocols and standards for data sharing and ownership. Furthermore, almost 40% state that they operate at least partly on a trustless, decentralised infrastructure.
End user adoption
Many respondents state that they are already actively pursuing – or want to pursue – a multistakeholder approach with respect to data sovereignty, whether in terms of informing users, sharing data across industries or boosting data interoperability for the benefit of all. However, just a quarter of them indicate that their organisation is working to educate employees and consumers about data sovereignty. This implies that most of the attention is currently focused on building a stakeholder network, while more can be done with respect to internal education and customer awareness.
The Data Sovereignty Monitor reveals not only that awareness of data sovereignty is growing, but also that organisations are increasingly willing to share data with users, customers and other stakeholders in a data-sovereign manner.
However, people and organisations still find it difficult to put data sovereignty into practice. Organisations largely get caught up in providing information to their stakeholders, and are not doing enough to take concrete steps to actually improve data sovereignty. Many organisations even admit that they are insufficiently prepared to comply with the upcoming legislative changes in Europe.
In conclusion, governments, industry associations and consultancy firms still have their work cut out to make the topic of data sovereignty more tangible and comprehensible for such organisations so that we can all pull together to make tomorrow’s digital world more sustainable.
To learn more, read the Data Sovereignty Monitor report in full.
About the authors
Arief Huhn is the Head of Freedomlab and Pim Korstens is a researcher and strategist at this think-thank. They provide consultancy services concerning the future of technology, economics, politics, and society to clients ranging from Dutch ministries to banks, and energy providers to insurance companies. They are all united in that they wish to be ahead of the curve and confidently navigate the ever-changing and increasingly complicated business world. FreedomLab is part of the Data Sovereignty Now coalition and was responsible for developing and executing the Data Sovereignty Monitor.
This article was originally published by Data Sovereignty Now, access the original here.