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?