Policy and technology: a "longue durée" view

Random thoughts on policy for technology and on technology for policy


February 2012

Lessons learnt from animating the Digital Single Market conference #dsm12

I’m just back from the Digital Single Market high-level conference, where we were ensuring the online animation. I’d like to share with you some lessons learnt.

The model adopted for online animation was the same as for the Digital Agenda Assembly last year. We launched early discussions to identify the most relevant issues, this time through entries in the Digital Agenda blog. We stimulated discussion on twitter during the conference through a team of live bloggers and made sure that the input received online was fed into the conference (thanks also to the great work of the moderator). Finally, we created a idea-storm forum to get feedback from participants.

The results, analysed through my “participation steps model“, were positive:

– no technical hiccup

– good quantity of participation: we overall collected about 1500 tweets from 200 people, and 51 comments on the blog. As usual, participation was very unequal, with some session attracting lots of comments and other much less.

– little spam and inappropriate content: only one or two spam comments in the blog. There were some criticisms, but constructive.

– high quality of online participation: some of the comments helped to raise the level of the discussion and actually engaged people who were not there. For instance, the question from @lisadf1717 about the possibility of a European Netflix under the current copyright regime nailed down the issue and helped to better frame the debate. This was for me the best example fo what we want to achieve with online participation.

We learned several lessons that we will use for the Digital Agenda Assembly. The live bloggers (Jamal and Andrew) did a great job and it was a win-win situation because they were highly knowledgeable about the theme, and good in communicating.  Twitter participation increases when you have good, snappy speakers that are easily “retweeteable”.

But the most important lesson is that if we want to have high quality of discussion, we need to directly identify those stakeholders who have important things to say, are normally interested in EU policy issues but are not based in Brussels. We need to contact them personally and explain why it’s important that they participate online. EU policy debate is often highly technical and jargon based, and if we want to reach out to new stakeholders we need to explain clearly what’s at stake and why it’s important to participate. Let’s hope we can do even better in the next Digital Agenda Assembly.

The global trade (un)balance of data-driven services

Today I gave a presentation at Microsoft Social Computing event, and I would like to elaborate on this.

I think that international trade theory, mentioned in my previous post, could prove very useful for analysing the situation of social computing and big data in the EU.

I will elaborate on that in a series of post, starting from the basic ideas:

– because of the lack of strong EU social networks, the large majority of personal data published by European citizens on social networks is now owned by the US

– the US own the “social personal data” of EU citizens and builds on top of it value added services, which resells to Europeans – not only social networking but also advertising

– this is a positive feedback loop where more data drive to better services, so the EU-US gap is likely to grow

What do you think?

Are we giving up European strategic ressources to the US for free?

From my university studies, I remember the typical story of underdevelopment. Western countries get out of a third world country natural ressources for a very low price, then make final products and sell them back to the country with huge added value. This is one of the main reasons why third world countries remain poor: they don’t have the manufacturing capacity to build value-added products out of their natural ressources.

Think of today. Big data is considered the new “Intel inside” or “the new oil“. Facebook record IPO-valuation of 94 Billions shows how much personal data are worth. As McKinsey points out, “analyzing large data sets—so-called big data—will become a key basis of competition, underpinning new waves of productivity growth, innovation, and consumer surplus”.

What is happening today is that a large share of European big data are now owned by US companies – at least the personal data in web-based services like Facebook and Google. Europe has the largest share of Facebook users, but gets little added value out of these data. We have given up a key European competitive asset for free. Just as third world country for natural ressources, we’ve not been able to take advantage of it because of the lack of EU-based added-value providers (in this case web players).

In this context, I wonder how the new EU data protection policy and the heated discussions about privacy could become not only a consumer protection issue but an industrial policy. I am no expert in the field but it seems to me that high protection for EU citizens could be a sort of “invisible barrier” to free flow of data in an area where EU is at competitive disadvantage. This consideration is similar to the reasoning of my previous post on copyright and net neutrality as industrial policy.

But a key question arises: is it too late to do something about it?

Do we need a EU Single Open Data License?

There is an interesting petition initiative, promoted via, to promote a single open data license in the EU, building on the Spanish experience. I haven’t got into the details but it seems a logical and effective measure at first sight.

I subscribed to it, what are your views?

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