10 months ago

Digital EU: the Good, the Bad — and the Ugly

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The European Union has impressive digital ambitions and an equally impressive array of initiatives, proposals, directives and regulations, all designed to make the bloc ‘fit for the digital age’.


DIGITAL INNOVATION ‘DIGITAL EU’: THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY The AI Act, a key piece of legislation to regulate AI applications dependent on the risks they pose to citizens’ rights or safety, is currently being discussed by EU member states and MEPs. one where someone interested thinks that there is a better solution and the one that tries to silence certain ideas. Many women are exposed to the latter, she points out. Europe is backsliding in gender equality and women in power and politics because “a lot of efforts are made to scare people off,” she says, adding: “It’s not acceptable to bully other people, no matter the age, no matter the gender. And, here, I think we’re too timid.” Denmark’s former economy and home affairs minister, Vestager is considered one of the most powerful women in Europe. She has long defended a technological transformation that works for people . Source: European Parliament unique opportunity for Europe to grasp the boom in industrial data. But unlocking the potential of such industrial data remains a difficult test for the EU since 80 percent of its data remains unused. “One of the things that we learned from the fact that Europe never established [any] sort of Big Tech business-to-consumer [B2C], is that we didn’t provide a single market [and] a sufficiently supportive capital market,” Vestager says. The European single market, nevertheless, has evolved considerably and access to capital has improved. Europe is ready to lead in the data economy and business-to-business (B2B) data-sharing thanks to the EU’s “entrepreneurial and industrial culture”, she says, adding: “We have changed the European marketplace [with] very good timing, with this change from business to consumer being [the] name of the game, to business-to-business being the real ‘Big Thing’.” Landmark proposals from the EU’s strategy to boost data-sharing across sectors and member states - the Data Governance Act and the Data Act - will be key, as information generated by connected products, the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) is expected to grow exponentially within the next few years. Under the 2020 European data strategy, the commission announced nine data spaces across priority sectors – including health, agriculture, energy, mobility, finance, and public administration. Data availability and data interoperability are also crucial for the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI). For example, vast amounts of health data could help develop better health services, simultaneously reducing parts of doctors’ busy workloads. The EU wants to mobilise funding to invest €20bn per year in AI during the next decade, to reduce the investment gap with the US and China. But the European Investment Bank has identified an annual shortfall of up to €10bn in AI and blockchain investments in the EU. In total, the estimated annual public investment of the EU in AI is €1bn compared to €5.1bn by the US and €6.8bn by China. For many people, AI may be about a future of self-driving cars and other such sci-fi technologies – but in fact the age of AI is already here. The AI Act, a key piece of legislation to regulate AI applications dependent on the risks they pose to citizens’ rights or safety, is currently being discussed by EU member states and MEPs. Once approved, it will become the first legislation of its kind worldwide. Like the EU’s data protection rules (GDPR) in 2018, the AI Act also aspires to become a global standard. Risky for democracy Disruptive technologies, meanwhile, have proven to be hard to regulate. The use of surveillance technologies such as the smartphone spyware, Pegasus, against anti-regime activists, journalists, and political leaders in several countries illustrates the risks that new technologies can pose to democracy and civil rights. In 2021, an investigation by 17 media outlets (coordinated by Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories) revealed how the spyware tool of Israeli company NSO Group had been used against human-rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, and politicians. “When the Pegasus scandal erupted, the commission found that this was absolutely non-acceptable because everyone has a right to privacy and journalists, in particular, have a right to protect their sources,” Vestager insists. But this will probably not be the last spying scandal, she concedes. “Unfortunately, in the world we live in, if there is a buyer for something very often there’s also a supply… What is important is that people can protect themselves and that those who produce such technology know what obligations they have.” When asked about the most significant dangers that technology may bring in the future, Vestager warned against allowing technology to dominate our lives. Globally, it is estimated that European citizens spend nearly seven hours per day using the internet across all devices with an average of 2.5 hours on social media alone. “If we allow technology to steal our time, we are not in control anymore,” Vestager warned. The EU competition chief’s battle against global tech giants has made her admired but also hated by many, mainly in the US. But she is not too worried and differentiates between two types of criticism: the About Elena Sánchez Nicolás Elena joined EUobserver in 2019. She covers climate change and tech policy. Before joining EUobserver, she worked on European affairs at the Brussels-based think tank VoteWatch Europe and the Spanish news agency EFE. Elena is a graduate of Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), where she completed a master in New Media and Society in Europe. She previously studied journalism in Spain, and was part of an exchange programme with the Thomas More Hogeschool, where she focussed on cross-media production. 9

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