EU advances new data rules as it cracks down on big tech

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Negotiators representing the European Parliament and EU countries struck a deal this week on a new set of rules governing how individuals and businesses access and share data in the bloc. 

The Data Act, proposed by the European Commission last year, aims to give users more control over the data generated from internet-connected devices and protect them against illegal data transfers.  

The new legislation will empower consumers and companies by giving them a say on what can be done with the data generated by their connected products, said the Commission. This includes letting users access the data generated by smart objects, machines, and devices, and share it with outside parties if they so choose.

The EU’s industry chief Thierry Breton called the agreement a “milestone in reshaping the digital space.”

Another deal! 👍👍

⁰Tonight’s agreement on the #DataAct is a milestone in reshaping the digital space.

Thanks to the swift work of the EP @delcastillop & the 🇸🇪 Council Presidency, we are on the way of a thriving 🇪🇺 data economy that is innovative & open — on our conditions.

— Thierry Breton (@ThierryBreton) June 27, 2023

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Let the data flow 

Back in the day, when you bought a product you owned it, and that was that. But internet-connected devices have muddied the waters somewhat. As a Commision spokesperson noted last year, “Data has made it more difficult, because, actually, who’s in control of the data you generate with connected objects?” 

Everything from phones and cars to windmills and coffee machines gather data. Mostly, this data is accessible only to the manufacturer (think, big tech companies) and not to the user.  

The Data Act looks to change that. “Consumers will have the right to access all of this data, free of charge and in real-time,” said the EU’s digital chief Margrethe Vestager, when the act was unveiled last year.

Announcing the deal on Tuesday, EU politicians emphasised the need for harmonised rules.

“Once the data act enters into force, it will unlock the economic and societal potential of data and technologies and contribute to an internal market for data,” said Erik Slottner, public administration minister for Sweden, which currently holds the presidency of the Council of the EU.

“It will enhance the single market, allowing data to flow freely within the EU and across sectors for the benefit of our citizens and businesses,” he added.

The Data Act has been hailed as the final and, potentially, most important part of the EU’s digital transformation.

It’s one of five pieces of legislation that aim to overhaul the bloc’s digital rules alongside the Digital Markets Act, Digital Services Act, Artificial Intelligence Act, and the Data Governance Act.

Not everyone’s happy

While individuals and businesses are set to benefit from the new rules, manufacturers aren’t so peachy. The CEOs of several large European firms and trade organisation DigitalEurope wrote to the Commission last month to express their concerns over the text. 

They are afraid that being forced to share data with other companies, including those outside the bloc, could undermine European leadership and innovation and leave them vulnerable to cybersecurity threats and copyright infringements.   

Siemens Healthineers, a German manufacturer of medical equipment, said it considers the Data Act to be “more of a threat than an opportunity.” Siemens said it is worried that the law could expose commercially sensitive data. 

The deal, DigitalEurope said on Wednesday, “fails to achieve the necessary balance”. 

Following the provisional agreement reached this week, the Data Act will now wind its way through the legal system.  

Companies will then have to abide by its rules roughly 20 months later, meaning it’s likely to be a couple of years before the Data Act’s measures come into effect.