On 23 February, the European Commission (EC) revealed the proposal for the Data Act which, among other issues, aims to propose rules for access and use of private sector data for public interest purposes. A public consultation preceded this step and was held from 3 June until 3 September 2021; it was the latest in a series of consultation actions taking place since 2017. The EC published a summary report of the responses to this consultation, which is also cited in the Impact Assessment document accompanying the regulation. These results show that 91% of public sector respondents considered that action (EU or national) on B2G is needed, as compared to 38% of business sector respondents.
We found these results intriguing and dived deeper into how the positions of the public and private sector respondents on the prospect of mandatory B2G data sharing differ. We aimed to assess whether certain types of respondents significantly more often oppose, while controlling for all other factors.
Our analysis is limited to the two key questions of the consultation:
- Should the EU take additional action so that public sector bodies can access and re-use private sector data when this data is needed for them to carry out their tasks in the public interest purpose?
- In which of the following areas do you think that, for specific use-cases with a clear public interest, B2G data sharing should be compulsory, with appropriate safeguards? These areas include:
- Data for emergencies and crisis management, prevention, and resilience (Emergency)
- Data for official statistics (Statistics)
- Data for protecting the environment (Environment)
- Data for a healthier society (Health)
- Data for better public education services (Education)
- Data for a socially inclusive society (Inclusion)
- Data for evidence-based public service delivery and policy-making (Policy)
Below we present a ‘heat map’ of responses per category of respondents, with the intensity of the red color corresponding to the degree of opposition as expressed in the percentage of opposing respondents per category. Here are our four key conclusions for which we found statistically significant support in our analysis.
Business actors are most likely to strongly oppose regulatory action. Most business actors oppose regulatory action on B2G data sharing, while the large majority of citizens and public actors are in favor. This pattern is repeated when looking at specific subject areas, where the share of opposing businesses is generally even larger.
Strongest opposition found in Finance and Telecom. The stronghold of opposition to B2G data sharing regulation is among Finance and Telecom business actors. These actors are 8 times more likely to oppose action on B2G than other actors.
Least business opposition for emergencies. Business actors’ strong opposition to compulsory data sharing is consistent across the different subject areas, although it is the least strong in Emergencies, and strongest for Statistics, followed by Inclusion and Education. In relative terms, businesses seem most open to data sharing for emergency and environmental purposes.
Signs of France (and Italy) driving the digital agenda. France stands out as having a highly significant negative effect on opposition (together with Italy, although with a less significant effect). This means that actors residing in France are 5 times less likely to oppose data sharing.
In sum, these results demonstrate that the positions and needs of the public and private sector clash dramatically when it comes to B2G data sharing for public interest. While explaining the rationale behind the business opposition is beyond our current analysis, businesses may be reluctant to share data for various reasons, such as competitive risks, cost factors, lack of incentives and viable business models, reputational and ethical risks, to name a few.
In its current formulation the proposal for the Data Act of the EC stipulates for mandating B2G data sharing “in situations of exceptional need” and “public emergencies”, which is the subject area where least business opposition was found. The proposal is yet to go through the legislative process of adoption. However, our research shows that the future of B2G data sharing in the EU will be situated in a highly rivalrous landscape where the interests of public and private sectors are extremely divided.
About the authors
Iryna Susha and Jakob Schiele work at the Innovation Studies group at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development at Utrecht University, The Netherlands. Iryana is an assistant professor, Jakob a junior lecturer. Koen Frenken is professor of Innovation Studies at this same institute.