From the beginning of its mandate in December 2019, the new European Commission has been showing strong leadership in Digital Transition. Proof of this is publication of the European Strategy for Data, which has recently been submitted for public consultation.
The European Association for Digital Transition welcomes the Commission’s proposal. Nevertheless, we have provided our observations, detailing our position regarding the proposed benchmarks.
All developed economies face enormous challenges in their digital transition process, such as what to do about privacy and their citizens’ data, the new labour frameworks brought about by digitalisation and the taxation of large platforms, who are barely anchored in national legislation. The experiences and perceptions of citizens are fundamental to addressing these challenges. To find out more about these experiences, the Center for the Governance of Change (CGC), a part of IE University, has carried out the second edition of a study that, beginning with its title, is focused on Europe. This is European Tech Insights, a report that tries to build, through a comprehensive survey in 11 countries, eight of them European (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Poland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom), a knowledge base for these digital transition processes.
Approximately 2% of EU adults have their main source of income coming from what is being called the ‘gig economy’, and up to 8% earn occasional income from these work alternatives. The data, from a study by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, makes it clear that we are facing an unavoidable reality for Community institutions, posing challenges in the areas of taxation and social protection.
When the EU territory slowly recovers its activity following the worst weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, the debate on using applications as tools to control possible new outbreaks will still be open. As we have already discussed in this blog, there are basically two schools of thought when it comes to processing the data created by these apps – centralised and decentralised – but what really has drawn attention from the media, politicians and experts is the role in these tools played by Apple and Google, who have offered to collaborate with the institutions.
The gradual lifting of restrictions is here. Europe is, little by little, ending the lockdown of its population, using different rhythms and methodologies. And for now, despite all the debate in recent weeks, there is no consensus on widespread implementation of applications to detect people who have been in contact with others who are newly infected.
As the weeks pass and the coronavirus crisis evolves, debates about the day after have become increasingly important. The ‘day after’ poses some enormous difficulties: the virus will continue to be here, and the vaccine will still not be a reality. Many hopes have been placed on technology in order for the economy to not remain paralyzed – an economy that, in large part, is based on the movement of people – and to avoid, once again, the nightmare of an outbreak capable of saturating hospitals and ending the lives of tens of thousands of people. More specifically, hopes are placed on the effectiveness of applications that track the proximity of citizens. Like this, health services can contact all those who have been in contact with others who have become sick to apply selective isolation measures.
The severity of the coronavirus pandemic not only reminds us of the real meaning of the internet: it is also putting discussions on the table that the EU did not consider having just a few weeks ago. The technological ability to track the footsteps of its citizens, facing an expanding disease that is countered with social isolation, is a huge temptation for EU governments. And, with tens of thousands of deaths throughout the EU, it would be incomprehensible to completely dispense of a tool capable of combating the virus.
Nothing will be the same when this crisis is over. Just as the way we greet strangers will change, we will also put more value on health professionals, the corner pharmacist, our children’s teachers, the cashier at the supermarket. All of them, with different depth and levels of responsibility, have been there as our way of life has collapsed from a public health crisis unprecedented in recent history.
Is privacy a vestige of the past? Many think that in the midst of the twenty-first century this simple concept has disappeared. Nevertheless, lately the debate seems to be changing, and concern about privacy is experiencing a resurgence. This mood change was largely triggered by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which showed how personal data was shared and used without the knowledge of users for false purposes, such as influencing various elections.
The challenges of the digital transition are complex and encompass all types of areas: from the defence of democratic values to purely legal matters, without forgetting free competition, defence against cyber-terrorism or data protection. Consequently, several European institutions are responsible, to a greater or lesser extent, for designing a proactive European response, without falling behind the United States and China and maintaining the standards that have made the European Union a tool for progress for more than 440 million citizens.