Common rules for the data economy

Data already facilitates our lives and guides us. Hopefully data will move fluidly and responsibly for useful purposes in the future too. This includes for example personified treatment methods, movement that is more flexible, more sustainable consumer choices and production processes, and automation that helps routine work. 

Data is increasingly being concentrated in the hands of individual operators, which means that decision-making power narrows down too – that is, unless we create fair and equal rules of play for the re-use of data, respecting the rights of all parties concerned.

Since there are no geographical boundaries to data, common rules for data use would prompt us all to do better and would also enable us to tackle global challenges together. 

It is time to ask ourselves what kind of data economy rules we want for steering the course of our future.

During its Presidency of the Council of the European Union, Finland wants to strengthen measures in the European Union to create common rules for the data economy. Proximity to the people and sustainability in the data economy are seen as the core objectives.

All those who engage in exchanging and processing data in one way or another must be able to exploit data use. At present, the rules in the data economy operate at different levels globally. Drawing on its rules based on values, Europe can help others reach for a human-driven and fair data economy. 

The proposed common rules have been formulated into six principles, having heard interested parties, examined applicable guidelines and recommendations, and endeavoured to take a neutral stand in relation to different stakeholders. 

The next step is to hold an open network discussion, with a view to testing the principles, improve them and make them work better. Following the discussion, the common rules will be presented at the High-Level Conference on Data Economy being held in Helsinki in November. This conference is the most important event related to digitalisation during Finland’s Presidency.

Six principles to steer the course of developments

The principles for the data economy involve access to data, sharing of data, capabilities of individuals, innovation, trust and learning. 

Access to data is the foundation for value creation in the data economy. We need to guarantee access to non-personal data, unless there are special reasons for limiting it. This does not mean that such data should be openly available to everyone, but that access to it must be non-discriminatory. 

We need to be able to share data. Data sharing means re-use of data in contexts where it creates new value. We need clear and fair user rights for data sharing, ones that open doors to the creation of services, products and new businesses.

People must be equipped to act, in other words to actively manage the use of their own data. Backed by EU data protection regulations, this also means that we have easy tools at hand to use our own data ourselves and to transfer it for other uses.

To fuel innovation based on data, there must be a level playing field for everyone to operate in and to access the markets. Competition must be open and any misuse of a market position must be tackled. We must safeguard data retrievability and usability by means of common standards, for instance.

The data economy must be based on trust. We must make sure that data security and data protection are basic features of services and processes from the outset. Digital products and services that are easy to use also help build trust. Users must understand how they work and be aware of the liabilities of each party. 

Learning in the data economy must be continuous and flexible. We need to see that lifelong learning can materialise from an idea into concrete measures. Society can transform so that it supports the digital revolution instead of hampering it. Businesses should also invest in new capabilities. In fact, according to a broad European survey, 40 per cent of respondents believe that the business that employs them will no longer exist in a decade’s time unless the company evolves in step with technological advances.

Launching the discussion

Concrete measures deriving from the data economy principles are available in the EU policy areas and they are also linked with development and funding programmes.

But we need more than just the policy level. We would like to see the discussion on the data economy reach actors and all those interested in it as widely as possible. Common rules cannot work unless we feel they apply to all of us.

We would therefore like feedback on what you consider important about the principles, what works and what doesn’t, what is realistic and where we can find a common path to the data economy.

We are hoping the principles will encourage people to work together for a human-driven data economy that is successful and balanced, one that strives for solutions, so that the use of data can steer us to a better world together.  

Come and see, assess and comment on the common rules for the data economy! Discussion closes on 30 October 2019. Go to

Taru Rastas
The writer is a Senior Adviser in the Data Department of the Ministry of Transport and Communications (leave of absence)

Kirjoittanut: Taru Rastas