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The online magazine of the Swiss Bankers Association
April 02, 2020

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Data strategy – the path to digital self-determination

Data strategy – the path to digital self-determination

The worldwide volume of data is constantly increasing. On the international stage, a competition is taking place between cultures in terms of how data is handled. As a business location, it is crucial for Switzerland to protect its own valuable data through transparent and fair rules and to thus further promote its competitiveness and capacity for innovation. Nothing less than digital self-determination is at stake.

Data – the new oil of the digitalised economy

Our digital footprint is growing steadily. The use of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets is in particular rapidly increasing the amount of data we produce every day. In 2019 alone, in one minute an average of more than 41 million messages were sent via WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, people “swiped” 1.4 million times on Tinder and around USD 1 million were spent on online shopping1 . According to the World Economic Forum, around 463 exabytes (EB) of data will be generated worldwide by 2025 – daily. This corresponds to over 200 million DVDs per day2 .

Data in the fight against coronavirus

The current efforts against the spread of coronavirus also highlight the possibilities the new data economy opens up. Data-based findings and decisions can play an important role here. For example, the government authorities in South Korea are using the location data in smartphones and credit card data together with recordings from surveillance cameras to track the movements of coronavirus patients and thus better understand the chain of transmission. In addition, anonymous data on movements together with information on population density in certain areas can help to predict the further spread of the virus. This example illustrates what is already technically easy to achieve. However, the important question here is how far one can go in disclosing personal and individual data. And how much of this is done voluntarily and with the consent of the individual data producers.

Competition between different data protection cultures

An increasingly data-based economy and society needs corresponding rules that set out how data can be collected and used – both personal and non-personal data. Important questions in this regard are how these rules should be designed and who should ultimately have control over the data. Internationally, there is a veritable competition between different data protection cultures: in China, the majority of data sovereignty lies with the state, while in the US, it is held by the big companies or Big Techs. In Europe, the trend is towards digital self-determination and consumer sovereignty. The European Commission recently laid another cornerstone stone to this end.

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Data Ownership

Figure 1: Comparison of data protection cultures. Source: SBA, with information from Axon Active

Europe lays a cornerstone for digital self-determination with new data strategy

In February 2020, the European Commission published a new data strategy. The European data strategy is designed to make more data available for use in business and society. This primarily relates to non-personal data. At the same time, the aim is to ensure that the data producers – i.e. citizens – retain control over their data. This is to be achieved with measures such as the creation of transparent and fair rules for data access and the further use of data, or by equipping users with rights, tools and competences so that they retain full control over their data. Another area of focus is the expansion of the European infrastructure, especially cloud capacities, in order to be able to process and store the constantly increasing volume of data on European soil. Importantly, this should also strengthen the situation at the local level and reduce dependence on global, mostly American, technology companies.

In parallel with the data strategy, the Commission published a communication entitled “Shaping Europe’s digital future” and a white paper on artificial intelligence, in which the Commission sets out how it intends to support and promote the development and use of AI across the EU. With this work, the EU has laid an important cornerstone for the future design of the – at least European –

data economy. And it is underscoring the importance of data and artificial intelligence for the entire economy. The EU’s ambitions are high and the timeframe it has set for itself is tight. The first measures are to be implemented this year. It will therefore soon become clear whether the many words will be backed up by actions.

Switzerland must position itself

Switzerland must also decide how it wants to position itself with regards to how it handles data. In order to keep its capacity for innovation and competitiveness as a business location high, it must make use of its growing wealth of data. Banks and clients’ financial data in particular play a key role in this regard. It is important that banks are not at a disadvantage in the new competitive environment of the data economy.

Given its democratic national identity and the central importance of privacy, Switzerland has a fundamental interest in aligning itself with the EU model. The model can help to position Switzerland as a haven of security and trust. The course must therefore be set as quickly as possible at all levels. After all, what is at stake is nothing less than the digital self-determination of Swiss citizens.

1 https://www.visualcapitalist.com/what-happens-in-an-internet-minute-in-2019/
2 https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/04/how-much-data-is-generated-each-day-cf4bddf29f/