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European strategy for data: What MEPs want

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Find out how MEPs want to shape the EU's rules for non-personal data sharing to boost innovation and the economy while protecting privacy.

Data is at the heart of the EU's digital transformation that is influencing all aspects of society and the economy. It is necessary for the development of artificial intelligence, which is one of the EU's priorities, and presents significant opportunities for innovation, recovery after the Covid-19 crisis and growth, for example in health and green technologies.

Read more about big data opportunities and challenges.

Responding to the European Commission's European Strategy for Data, Parliament's industry, research and energy committee called for legislation focussed on people based on European values of privacy and transparency that will enable Europeans and EU-based companies to benefit from the potential of industrial and public data in a report adopted on 24 February 2021.

The benefits of an EU data economy

MEPs said that the crisis has shown the need for efficient data legislation that will support research and innovation. Large quantities of quality data, notably non-personal - industrial, public, and commercial - already exist in the EU and their full potential is yet to be explored. In the coming years, much more data will be generated. MEPs expect data legislation to help tap into this potential and make data available to European companies, including small and medium-sized enterprises, and researchers.

Enabling data flow between sectors and countries will help European businesses of all sizes to innovate and thrive in Europe and beyond and help establish the EU as a leader in the data economy.

The Commission projects that the data economy in the EU could grow from €301 billion in 2018 to €829 billion in 2025, with the number of data professionals rising from 5.7 to 10.9 million.

Europe's global competitors, such as the US and China, are innovating quickly and applying their ways of data access and use. To become a leader in the data economy, the EU should find a European way to unleash potential and set standards.

Rules to protect privacy, transparency and fundamental rights

MEPs said rules should be based on privacy, transparency and respect for fundamental rights. The frree sharing of data must be limited to non-personal data or irreversibly anonymised data. Individuals must be in full control of their data and be protected by EU data protection rules, notably the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The committee called on the Commission and EU countries to work with other countries on global standards to promote EU values and principles and ensure the Union’s market remains competitive.

European data spaces and big data infrastructure

Calling for the free flow of data to be the guiding principle, MEPs urged the Commission and EU countries to create sectoral data spaces that will enable the sharing of data while following common guidelines, legal requirements and protocols. In light of the pandemic, MEPs said that special attention should be given to the Common European Health Data Space.

As the success of the data strategy depends largely on information and communication technology infrastructure, MEPs called for accelerating technological developments in the EU, such as cybersecurity technology, optical fibres, 5G and 6G, and welcomed proposals to advance Europe's role in supercomputing and quantum computing. They warned that the digital divide between regions should be tackled to ensure equal possibilities, especially in light of the post-Covid recovery.

Environmental footprint of big data

While data has the potential to support green technologies and the EU's goal to become climate neutral by 2050, the digital sector is responsible for more than 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions. As it grows, it must focus on lowering its carbon footprint and reducing E-waste, MEPs said.

EU data sharing legislation

The Commission presented a European strategy for data in February 2020. The strategy and the White paper on artificial intelligence are the first pillars of the Commission's digital strategy.

Read more about artificial intelligence opportunities and what the Parliament wants.

The industry, research and energy committee expects the report will be taken into account in the new Data Act that the Commission will present in the second half of 2021.

Parliament is also working on a report on the Data Governance Act that the Commission presented in December 2020 as part of the strategy for data. It aims to increase data availability and strengthen trust in data sharing and in intermediaries.

Parliament is set to vote on the committee report during a plenary session in March.

A European strategy for data 

Data Governance Act: European data governance 

Data

Dutch data protection authority fines Booking.com €475,000

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Dutch Data Protection Authority (AP) has imposed a fine of €475,000 on Booking.com for a data breach where criminals accessed the personal data of more than 4,000 customers, including obtaining the credit card details of nearly 300 users of the popular travel site.

The criminals extracted login details to the accounts from employees of 40 hotels in the United Arab Emirates.

Phishing

"Booking.com customers ran the risk of being robbed here," said Monique Verdier, Vice President of the Dutch data protection agency. "Even if the criminals did not steal credit card information but only someone's name, contact details and information about his or her hotel booking. The scammers used that data for phishing."

"By pretending to belong to the hotel by phone or email, they tried to take money from people. That can be very credible if such a scammer knows exactly when you booked which room. And asks if you want to pay for those nights. The damage can then be considerable, "said Verdier.

Booking.com was notified of the data breach on 13 January, but didn't report it within the mandatory three day period after discovering a breach. Instead, they waited a further 22 days.

"This is a serious violation," said Verdier. "Unfortunately, a data breach can happen anywhere, even if you have taken good precautions. But to prevent damage to your customers and the repetition of such a data breach, you must report this in time. Speed is very important." 

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Business

Commission proposes measures to boost data sharing and support European data spaces

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Today (25 November), the Commission is presenting the Data Governance Act, the first deliverable under the data strategy adopted in February. The Regulation will facilitate data sharing across the EU and between sectors to create wealth for society, increase control and trust of both citizens and companies regarding their data, and offer an alternative European model to data handling practice of major tech platforms.

The amount of data generated by public bodies, businesses and citizens is constantly growing. It is expected to multiply by five between 2018 and 2025. These new rules will allow this data to be harnessed and will pave the way for sectoral European data spaces to benefit society, citizens and companies. In the Commission’s data strategy of February this year, nine such data spaces have been proposed, ranging from industry to energy, and from health to the European Green Deal. They will, for example, contribute to the green transition by improving the management of energy consumption, make delivery of personalized medicine a reality, and facilitate access to public services.

Follow the press conference by Executive Vice President Vestager and Commissioner Breton live on EbS.

More information is available online

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Banking

COVID-19 reveals the shortcomings of a paper-based trade system

Colin Stevens

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According to a recent report by the International Chamber of Commerce, as COVID-19 reveals the shortcomings of a paper-based trade system, financial institutions (FIs) are finding ways to keep trade circulating. It states that the problem being faced today is rooted in trade’s single most persistent vulnerability: paper. Paper is the financial sector’s Achilles heel. The disruption was always going to happen, the only question was, when, writes Colin Stevens.

Preliminary ICC data shows that financial institutions already feel they are being impacted. More than 60% of respondents to the recent COVID-19 supplement to the Trade Survey expect their trade flows to decline by at least 20% in 2020.

The pandemic introduces or exacerbates challenges to the trade finance process. To help combat the practicalities of trade finance in a COVID-19 environment, many banks indicated that they were taking their own measures to relax internal rules on original documentation. However, only 29% of respondents report that their local regulators have provided support to help facilitate ongoing trade.

It’s a critical time for infrastructure upgrades and increased transparency, and while the pandemic has caused a lot of negative effects, a potential positive impact is that it has made clear to the industry that changes do need to be made to optimize processes and improve the overall functioning of international trade, trade finance, and money movement.

Ali Amirliravi, the CEO of LGR Global and founder of Silk Road Coin, explained how his firm has found solutions to these problems.

“I think it comes down to integrating new technologies in smart ways. Take my company for example, LGR Global, when it comes to money movement, we are focused on 3 things: speed, cost & transparency. To address these issues, we are leading with technology and using things like blockchain, digital currencies and general digitization to optimize the existing methodologies.

Ali Amirliravi, the CEO of LGR Global and founder of Silk Road Coin,

Ali Amirliravi, the CEO of LGR Global and founder of Silk Road Coin

"It's quite clear the impact that new technologies can have on things like speed and transparency, but when I say it’s important to integrate the technologies in a smart way that’s important because you always have to keep your customer in mind - the last thing we would want to do is introduce a system that actually confuses our users and makes his or her job more complicated. So on one hand, the solution to these problems is found in new technology, but on the other hand, it’s about creating a user experience that is simple to use and interact with and integrates seamlessly into the existing systems. So, it’s a bit of a balancing act between technology and user experience, that’s where the solution is going to be created.

"When it comes to the broader topic of supply chain finance, what we see is the need for improved digitalization and automation of the processes and mechanisms that exist throughout the product lifecycle. In the multi-commodity trading industry, there are so many different stakeholders, middlemen, banks, etc. and each of them have their own way of doing this - there is an overall lack of standardization, particularly in the Silk Road Area. The lack of standardization leads to confusion in compliance requirements, trade documents, letters of credit, etc., and this means delays and increased costs for all parties. Furthermore, we have the huge issue of fraud, which you have to expect when you are dealing with such disparity in the quality of processes and reporting. The solution here is again to use technology and digitalize and automate as many of these processes as possible - it should be the goal to take human error out of the equation.

"And here is the really exciting thing about bringing digitalization and standardization to supply chain finance: not only is this going to make doing business much more straightforward for the companies themselves, this increased transparency and optimization will also make the companies much more attractive to outside investors. It’s a win-win for everyone involved here.”

How does Amirliravi believe these new systems can be integrated into existing infrastructure?

“This is really a key question, and it's something that we spent a lot of time working on at LGR Global. We realized you can have a great technological solution, but if it creates complexity or confusion for your customers, then you’ll end up causing more problems than you solve.

In the trade finance and money movement industry, that means that new solutions have to be able to plug in directly into existing customer systems --using APIs this is all possible. It’s about bridging the gap between traditional finance and fintech and making sure that the benefits of digitalization are delivered with a seamless user experience.

The trade finance ecosystem has a number of different stakeholders, each with their own systems in place. What we really see a need for is an end-to-end solution that brings transparency and speed to these processes but can still interact with the legacy and banking systems that the industry relies on. That’s when you’ll start to see real changes being made.”

Where are the global hotspots for change and opportunities?  Ali Amirliravi says that his company, LGR Global, is focusing on the Silk Road Area - between Europe, Central Asia and China - for a few main reasons:

“First, It’s an area of incredible growth. If we look at China for example, they have maintained GDP growth of over 6% for the last years, and central Asian economies are posting similar numbers, if not higher. This kind of growth means increased trade, increased foreign ownership and subsidiary development. It’s an area where you can really see the opportunity to bring a lot of automation and standardization to the processes within the supply chains. There is a lot of money being moved around and new trading partnerships being made all the time, but there are also a lot of pain points in the industry.

The second reason has to do with the reality of currency fluctuation in the area. When we say Silk Road Area countries, we are talking about 68 countries, each with their own currencies and the individualized value fluctuations that come as a by-product of that. Cross-border trade in this area means that the companies and stakeholders that participate in the finance side have to deal with all kinds of problems when it comes to currency exchange.

And here is where the banking delays that happen in the traditional system really have a negative impact on doing business in the area: because some of these currencies are very volatile, it can be the case that by the time a transaction is finally cleared, the actual value that is being transferred ends up being significantly different than what might have been agreed to initially. This causes all kinds of headaches when it comes to accounting for all sides, and it’s a problem that I dealt with directly during my time in the industry.”

Amirliravi believes that what we are seeing right now is an industry that is ready for change. Even with the pandemic, companies and economies are growing, and there is now more of a push toward digital, automated solutions than ever before. The volume of cross border transactions has been growing steadily at 6% for years now, and just the international payments industry alone is worth 200 Billion Dollars.

Numbers like that show the impact potential that optimization in this space could have.

Topics like cost, transparency, speed, flexibility and digitization are trending in the industry right now, and as deals and supply chains continue to become more and more valuable and complex, demands on infrastructure will similarly increase. It’s really not a question of “if”, it’s a question of “when” - the industry is at a crossroads right now: it’s clear that new technologies will streamline and optimize processes, but parties are waiting for a solution which is secure and reliable enough to handle frequent, high volume transactions, and flexible enough to adapt to the complex deal structures that exist within trade finance. “

Amirliravi and his colleagues at LGR Global see an exciting future for the b2b money movement and trade finance industry.

“I think something that we are going to continue to see is the impact of emerging technologies on the industry “he said.  “Things like blockchain infrastructure and digital currencies will be used to bring added transparency and speed to transactions. Government-issued central bank digital currencies are also being created, and this is also going to have an interesting impact on cross-border money movement.

"We’re looking at how digital smart contracts can be used in trade finance to create new automated letters-of-credit, and this gets really interesting once you incorporate IoT technology. Our system is able to trigger transactions and payments automatically based on incoming data streams. This means, for example, that we could create a smart contract for a letter of credit which automatically releases payment once a shipping container or a shipping vessel reaches a certain location. Or, a simpler example, payments could be triggered once a set of compliance documents is verified and uploaded to the system. Automation is such a huge trend - we’re going to see more and more traditional processes being disrupted.

"Data is going to continue to play a huge role in shaping the future of supply chain finance. In the current system, a lot of data is siloed, and the lack of standardization really interferes with overall data collection opportunities. However, once this problem is solved, an end-to-end digital trade finance platform would be able to generate big data sets that could be used to create all kinds of theoretical models and industry insights. Of course, the quality and sensitivity of this data means that data management and security will be incredibly important for the industry of tomorrow.

"For me, the future for the money movement and trade finance industry is bright. We’re entering the new digital era, and this is going to mean all kinds of new business opportunities, particularly for the companies that embrace next generation technologies.”

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