The Data-Driven World: A European Perspective

Notes from the TechAmerica Europe seminar in Brussels, March 27, 2013

This may not be the most timely event write-up ever produced, but in light of all the discussions I’ve had on the same themes during the past few weeks, I thought I’d share my notes anyway.

The purpose of the event was to peel away some of the hype layers around the “big data” discussion, and — from a European perspective — take a look at the opportunities as well as challenges brought by the increasing amounts of data that is available, and the technologies that enable its exploitation. As was to be expected, an ever-present subtext was the potential of having laws and regulations put in place which — while well-intentioned — can ultimately stifle innovation and even act against consumer interests. And speaking of innovation: Another theme running through several of the discussions was the seeming lack of technology-driven innovation in Europe, in particular when considered in the context of an economic environment in dire need of every stimulus it can get.

The scene was set by John Boswell, senior VP, chief legal officer, and corporate secretary at SAS, who provided a neat summary of the technology developments (cheap storage, unprecedented access to compute power, pervasive connectivity) giving rise to countless opportunities related to the availability, sharing and exploitation of ever-increasing amounts of data. He also outlined the threats posed to companies, governments, and individuals by those who with more sinister intent when it comes to data exploitation, be it for ideological, financial, or political reasons. Clearly, those threats require mitigation, but John also made the point that “regulatory overlays” can also hinder progress, through limiting or even preventing altogether the free flow of data.

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