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Industrial Policy

EU unveils industrial data rulebook

The European Commission on Wednesday set out a new proposal aimed at regulating industrial data, including who can access and share data generated by smart devices.

The plan, part of the EU’s data strategy presented in February 2020, is expected to spark pushback from a range of sectors — including the car industry — due to the introduction of “data-sharing obligations.”

The proliferation of smart devices like connected cars, smart home appliances and factory robots has raised questions about who owns and can access the data they generate — the manufacturer, the user or third parties.

The logic is that machine-generated data is underused now because of the legal uncertainty involved. “In the past when you bought an object this was quite simple. You owned the object and you own everything that came with it,” a Commission official said ahead of the rules’ unveiling. “But now data has made it more difficult, because, actually, who’s in control of the data that you generate with connected objects?” 

In its proposal, the Commission suggests giving users of connected devices more rights to access data generated by devices and to share it with third parties of their choosing, like repair-service providers, under certain conditions.

That opens up possibilities for the aftermarket — when a user seeks additional services, products or repair services — but also prompted industry concerns about the extent to which it will have to share data access with independent services providers.

“The Data Act defines who can use what data and under what conditions,” Commission Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager said, pointing to the data generated by connected machines or devices in the first place, saying that “if used” they can create a “multitude of possibilities.”

The Data Act also aims to foster data-sharing with governments — especially to prevent and address emergencies — and mandate that cloud providers let customers easily switch to another provider. Data processing services will also have to take technical measures to avoid unlawful requests for data access in non-EU countries.

Tech and industry lobbies took aim at the Data Act’s data-sharing obligations before its presentation.

Brussels tech lobby CCIA warned that “incentives rather than obligations” would encourage companies to share data, while German engineering lobby VDMA stressed the importance of freedom-of-contract guidelines and the current practice of negotiating data access between companies through private contracts.

There is also concern about potential economic downsides from “safeguards” to prevent data processing services from fulfilling access requests from third countries not in line with EU law. Such “restrictions” might cost 0.6 percent of EU GDP, according to a study commissioned by CCIA.

The proposal will now go to the Parliament and the Council. Multiple Parliament committees are expected to fight over who gets jurisdiction over the file. Germany’s position will be on to watch in the Council, given its powerful car industry and engineering sector.

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