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Data protection in the Clouds: How to stay grounded
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Published on 27-09-12

Cloud computing is a whole different model of computing and it's a revolution Europe needs to be fully involved in.

Millions already enjoy the benefits of cloud-based services like Facebook, Spotify and webmail. But for our economy at large the full benefits will come with businesses and governments using cloud services en masse.

    For these organisations it means cheaper and more flexible information technology. It means new opportunities to those who don't have the capital to build a dedicated data centre before trying out their business idea. And it also means a better chance to deliver legal content to the consumers crying out for it across Europe. For others, like scientists cloud computing is the chance to collaborate with people across the globe at a speed and scale previously impossible.

    At a time when computers are rivalling planes as the fastest growing source of carbon emissions more efficient use of computing power also is a welcome green boost.

    The benefits can accrue in every corner of the economy, everywhere IT is used. That's why we need to take coordinated action in Europe: to give everyone certainty about their rights and to make sure no-one is left behind.  With this approach everyone can benefit from the €160 billion a year in benefits that would flow from an improved legal environment.

    Many will wonder what concrete difference the European Union can make to such a fast-changing set of market developments.

    The answer is not that governments or 'Brussels' should control the cloud. But when you have a borderless resource like this, you need to make regulation as borderless, up-to-date and stable as possible.

    Lack of trust is a barrier to take-up of cloud services and we must tackle it head-on. We've already started to do that with a proposal to give Europeans a single set of data protection rules fit for the digital era. We recognise the supreme importance of data for our digital economy, including personal data. This data is like currency, and it needs to be trusted and it needs to be able to flow freely.

    Yet today it's virtually impossible to move your cloud data from one provider to another. Lack of technical standards, and incomprehensible contracts that no ordinary user reads, are common problems. Many people or small organisations don't realise the limits of what they are signing up to and may find themselves stuck with a given provider when they prefer to take their tunes or their data elsewhere.

    Data portability, simple and fair contracts terms, and certification of trustworthy providers can all increase cloud users' confidence in what they are buying.

    We also underestimate the power of the public sector at our peril. The public sector is expected to purchase around €11bn in cloud services by 2014. That spending can go a long way in shaping the European cloud services market, making it more affordable and useful for everyone in the long run. That's why we have proposed a reform of the EU's data protection rules that will bring legal certainty and a harmonised set of rules to encourage investments in cloud computing. Companies are expected to save around €2.3 billion per year. We are also establishing a European Cloud Partnership to ensure public bodies across the EU learn from each other and adopt common approaches to cloud procurement.

    At the end of the day, cloud computing is a game-changer for the European economy. Creating a larger, trusted and more efficient cloud market in Europe could be the difference between literally hundreds of thousands of small businesses succeeding or failing. It can be the difference between being able to spread or being forced to cut a public service.

    We call on the tech industry, governments and users to work with us to move past the idea of national fortresses. We need to build trust so we can deliver the economic boost Europe needs.

    Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission, responsible for the Digital Agenda

    Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship

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    Last update: 28/09/2012  |Top