July 15, 2021

“The Beauty of Data Spaces is That They Are a Joint Effort”

This June, IDSA teamed up with other large European players with experience in operationalizing data sharing. Together, the Team Data Spaces aim to create a single market for data that will ensure Europe’s global competitiveness and data sovereignty. We sat down with leaders of this new coalition to discuss the benefits of a unified European data space and the road map for getting there.

Data sharing is a familiar concept. Could you explain to us what is new and different about data spaces?

Edward Curry: traditional data sharing takes place among a restricted number of businesses without the explicit participation of individuals. It usually takes place on central platforms, that are closed or within very strictly controlled networks. It is a rather rigid thing and somewhat limited. Data spaces are dynamic, open, and flexible. At the same time, they still have rules and standards. Those rules and standards are critical because they allow scaling without dedicated one-to-one agreements, as long as everyone follows the agreed-upon principles.

When we talk about European data spaces, are we talking about an all-encompassing data space for the entire continent?

Edward Curry: Ultimately that is our goal. For now. there are various data ecosystems that exist around Europe. These need to be standardized according to European values, such as preserving our participant’s sovereignty, as well as the capability to exercise control over your personal and business data. This is where Europe really has an opportunity to be a guiding light for the world. In Europe. we can show how to build ethical data spaces within a commonly accepted legal framework.

When we talk about data spaces, we often speak about soft infrastructure. I don’t think that term is in everyone’s vocabulary yet. Could you explain what that means?

Mariane ter Veen: By soft infrastructure, we mean a set of agreements that enable people and organizations to manage and share the data they generate. These are agreements about the technical, functional, operational, and legal aspects of data sharing. All the parties comply with these strict agreements. That way, they can share data seamlessly in a trusted, secure, and controlled way. I understand that this can seem abstract. So think about GSM. Its introduction enabled a worldwide ecosystem of telecom providers to develop without compromising the end user’s reach and portability.  If we extend this principle to data, that will give us the soft infrastructure which will rebalance the whole playing field. Remember that GSM was initiated in the EU, so we know that we can do this. We can create the data equivalent of GSM.

What would that look like specifically?

Marianne ter Veen: The common soft infrastructure forms the foundation of different data spaces. Each data space will address the specific needs of a particular center. But because all data spaces will be built on the foundation of the same soft infrastructure, the way we deal with data will be shaped by that. We will all have the same user experience and remain true to the European values of security, transparency, and privacy.

You are predicting an era of universal data sharing. How worried should we be about it and why will data spaces make a difference?

Kai Kuikkaniemi: It’s not the time to be completely relaxed but we don’t have to panic either. We are taking really good steps towards creating a sustainable digital society. Our challenges do not lie so much in technology and process knowledge. It’s more about coordination and scale. We need some focused teamwork in order to address these challenges. At “MyData” we have a slogan: Make it happen and make it right. That doesn’t have to mean a compromise between ethics and business. It has to be a win-win situation. We can make our society better and create a good trusting relationship between users and other stakeholders while creating better data and reap greater benefits. Hence it is crucial that we should focus on creating trust in interoperability challenges. Once we achieve this, people can start to relax.

IDSA and its partners are inviting Europe to work together, not just the EU but the entire continent: the businesses, the offices, and whoever has a stake in all the data spaces that are coming. But what kind of support is needed to make these data spaces happen?

Lars Nagel: Data spaces are, by their nature, a joint endeavor. It’s a completely different paradigm than data sharing. With data spaces, you can make use of all data in any data-sharing ecosystem and ultimately, this will transform the digital economy across Europe and worldwide. And data providers always have control over their data, including whether to participate in the first place. People can hop on and hop off the boat, as they please. If they are on the boat, they can feel comfortable and safe, they can go on a trip together with others having fun – doing business, making an impact – and if they want to hop off they can always do so. That is the idea of data spaces. It must be as easy as that.

What will it take to achieve this?

Lars Nagel: To get there we need a big community. We need a lot of companies, a lot of projects, a lot of sectoral groups to learn from so we have a big pool of data from which we can really gain a value-add. We are well on our way to that, but we need more. Our ecosystems are already large, we have big networks in BDVA, the DSN movement, in IDSA, MyData, in the FIWARE foundation. We are also responsible for other big networks like the data sharing coalition in the Netherlands and many others, We now have a community of practice, but we must make sure that we really learn from each other, so we don’t create silos again.  We must use common building blocks; we have to make sure all these data spaces are built in a similar way. This will not happen overnight. We have to come up with a joint road map on how to make this happen.  

In a larger social- and political sense, why are data spaces so important?

Lars Nagel: We work for the greater good of society, Europe, and the world. We are not building data spaces for our own self-interest. We are building them to have smart services that make peoples’ lives better, make businesses more profitable and drive innovation. That is why we do all this. If we have a community of action, data space interoperability, a common framework and then this road map, then we have really taken a major step into the future.

To learn more about Team Data Spaces, visit: https://dataspaces4.eu/

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