Europe to get €2.5 billion big data boost

Europe is lagging behind and urgently needs a big data investment to get on the bandwagon, Neelie Kroes said

Big data is going to get a big boost from the European Union, which will match an industry consortium's €2 billion investment with €500 million of public money over the next five years.

Companies including Atos, IBM, Nokia Solutions and Networks, Orange, SAP, and Siemens, along with several research bodies, will invest in the public-private partnership (PPP) from January 2015.

The partnership will invest in research and innovation in big data fields such as energy, manufacturing and health to deliver services including personalized medicine, food logistics and predictive analytics. Other products could include forecasting crop yields or speeding the diagnosis of brain injuries.

This investment will give a boost to the struggling European big data industry, European Commission vice president Neelie Kroes said during a news conference in Brussels.

"Europe is trailing behind. Virtually every big data company is from the USA, none are from Europe," she said. "That has to change and that is why we are putting public money on the table."

The money is needed to help companies process some of the 1.7 million gigabytes of data she said is generated around the world each minute. This data, including climate information, satellite imagery, digital pictures and videos, transaction records and GPS signals should be put to use by European companies, Kroes said.

The 25 companies forming the Big Data Value Association also see an immediate need to get their act together and start competing, said association president Jan Sundelin, who is also CEO of the Dutch e-commerce company Tie Kinetix.

Europe is one of the largest retail markets in the world, yet non-European companies "know more about our consumers and what we are doing in Europe than we know ourselves," he said during the news conference, where he invited other companies and startups to take part in the research.

The investments in the industry will also support "Innovation Spaces" that will offer secure environments for experimenting with both private and open data, the Commission said.

Plans to experiment with private data highlight one of the challenges of working with big data. While today's datasets are so huge and complex to process that they require new ideas, tools and infrastructures they also require the right legal framework, systems and technical solutions to ensure privacy and security, the Commission said. It will make data protection and pseudonymization mechanisms technical priorities for the project.

Further research into technical solutions to integrate privacy- and security- enhancing features will also be funded by the Commission. Moreover, the Commission will work with member states and others to make sure that businesses receive guidance on how to make data anonymous and use pseudonyms to perform personal data risk analyses, while also providing guidance on tools and initiatives available to enhance consumer awareness.

The partnership that was signed in Brussels on Monday is the sixth huge EU technology investment program that it hopes will catapult it into global leadership. In July for instance the Commission partnered with the private sector to invest €5 billion in Europe's electronics sector.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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