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EU: Startups Get Free Access to Public Sector Data

The re-use of the open data can contribute, for example, to the growth of the European economy, the development of artificial intelligence and to overcoming societal challenges.©Pexels
The re-use of the open data can contribute, for example, to the growth of the European economy, the development of artificial intelligence and to overcoming societal challenges.©Pexels

Data, data, data. Some describe it as the oil of the 21st century, while others prefer to compare it to sunlight. In any case, data is the raw material for the development of new technologies and Internet services. The European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the Commission have reached an agreement on a revised directive that will facilitate the availability and re-use of public sector data.

“Making sure that high-quality, high-value data from publicly funded services is widely and freely available is a key factor in accelerating European innovation in highly competitive fields such as artificial intelligence requiring access to vast amounts of high-quality data”, the European Commission stated. Anything from anonymised personal data on household energy use to general information about national education or literacy levels – EU Member States will in future be required to make data available, especially in real time and via APIs.

Data worth billions

This all be free. “The total direct economic value of public sector information and data from public undertakings is expected to increase from €52 billion in 2018 to €194 billion by 2030”, said Digital Single Market President Andrus Ansip. The motivation is clear:

“Public sector information has already been paid for by the taxpayer. Making it more open for re-use benefits the European data economy by enabling new innovative products and services, for example based on artificial intelligence technologies. But beyond the economy, open data from the public sector is also important for our democracy and society because it increases transparency and supports a facts-based public debate”, said Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society.

For startups and AI developers

Although there has been an EU open data strategy since 2003, the new directive will improve it. In this way, authorities are only allowed to charge the reuse of their data for additional costs in a few exceptional cases. “In this way, more SMEs and start-ups can open up new markets for the provision of data-aided products and services,” stated the EC.

There are several exceptions: for public services in the transport and utilities sector. It is regulated at national level whether they make data freely accessible. If so, then appropriate data formats and dissemination methods must be ensured. However, they may continue to charge “reasonable fees to cover their costs”.

Real-time data is another important focus. These will be available through application programming interfaces (APIs) so that companies, especially startups, can develop innovative products and services, such as mobility apps. Member States will then have to implement them within two years before they become effective. The Commission will start working with the Member States on the identification of the high-value datasets which will be set out in an implementing act.  

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