Panel Debates Risks and Opportunities of Data Use

The seemingly boundless opportunities but also risks involved in data, which is reshaping the business environment and society in general, were outlined in the panel that was opened with a keynote address by European Commissioner for the Security Union Mr Julian King.

The commissioner singled out trust as the key condition for using data for the benefit of economies and society. While technology is largely neutral, it can also be used for bad purposes.

One of three major challenges is securing the data, with King pointing out that the EU is leading here in terms of a joint effort, for instance in the understanding of risks in the setting up of G5 and measures to mitigate these risks.

The second aspect is making sure data is used in a good way. King called for an open debate, while expressing reservations about regulations and instead spoke of a need rules, norms about the use of mass data, human oversight, accountability and data protection.

The third challenge is cracking down on actors who are seeking to misuse data. King highlighted disinformation in the political space, saying cooperation among like-minded countries was already under way. He pointed to the need to promote debate in civil society to raise awareness, but it is also crucial to rely on cooperation with the private sector to clamp down on abusers. Finally, King argued the matter is about transparency, not about evaluating data.

Mr Levente Juhász, public policy manager for central and eastern Europe at Google Poland, stressed that all companies were digital today and relied on data in some sense. He warned against false conceptions of data, for instance the analogy with oil, pointing out that data is abundant, can be shared and so on. “It is more the recipe than the ingredients,” he said, while agreeing trust was fundamental for data economy.

Mr Samir Sharma, CEO of datazuum, a business intelligence specialist, spoke of a crossroads as regards data, whose scale has increased drastically. While illustrating the boundless potential of data, which will require the cooperation of the private sector to be optimised, Mr Sharma also claimed people, who have given away a lot of their data in line with a value exchange principle, now “need to take back some control over that data”.

Uroš Salobir, the director of the strategic innovation department at Slovenian national grid operator ELES, spoke about the use of data in a decentralised way to generate your own energy, while raising the issue of actual freedom of choice when using data to make decisions for yourself. On the other hand, data also makes it possible to optimise traditional centralized use.

Mr Šalobir also pointed to how competition among private companies undermines data sharing, which gives public companies an edge in terms of how many public benefits they can generate with the use of data.

Mr Gregor Pilgram, CEE & Russia Regional Financial Officer for Generali CEE Holding, pointed out insurance companies have been using big data for year. What has changed is the wiliness of people to share personal data and the connectivity of the different data sources.

Pointing out insurers can already get vast amount of crucial data from people’s phones, Pilgram said things can now pan out very positively – with insurers moving from pure insurance to prevention, to steering people to live in a healthier way etc,– or get out of hand “when we start moving to places like medical data”. “There must be a line of regulation, that’s clear. But where to draw the line is the question,” he said, noting too much regulation could for instance undermine the EU’s ability to compete with Asia.

The participants of the panel agreed that a crucial element in efforts to address the situation was also raising awareness about data, with the bulk of the population, including executives, being completely data illiterate.