David Schönwerth lived most of his life in Stuttgart, less than 100 kilometers from the French border. But the first time he really came to France – apart from a day trip to Strasbourg – was for his master’s degree in public policy at Sciences Po in Paris. Schönwerth, who is also a member of the Young Liberals, had previously studied business informatics in Stuttgart and Hohenheim, but he became interested in how data changes society.
Since 2021, the 25-year-old has been a Data Economy Policy Officer for AI and Big Data at the digital association Bitkom. In 2017, Bitkom received the mocking “Big Brother Award” from the Digitalcourage association for, as it was called at the time, “uncritical promotion of Big Data, its penetrating lobbying against data protection and because it is de facto a front for large American corporations.”
Balance between data protection and data availability
Schönwerth rejects the accusations: “80 percent of the companies we represent have their headquarters in Germany, and about 8 percent come from Europe. Bitkom’s list of members is transparent and open for all to see on our website. When it comes to data protection, our line is clear, and it’s good that the General Data Protection Regulation is now in place.” However, it was important to strike a balance between data economy and data availability.
“Data protection is important, but the solution can’t be that we have data protection at home and then buy the data we need somewhere else.” And data sharing would not only benefit the economy but also the population: In pandemic response, cancer screening, and in a crisis, where data sharing could help solve problems.
Uncertainty as an innovation inhibitor
The Data Act was a step in the right direction, but some companies were still concerned that corporate secrets would be endangered by the exchange of data. A Bitkom survey published in early May 2022 attests that German companies are becoming increasingly aware of data-driven business models, but three-quarters of companies have some catching up to do in this regard.
Some 63 percent of companies surveyed do not share data, which Schönwerth believes plays an “immensely important role” in keeping pace with the economy. However, this requires staff who can evaluate the data. This already needs to start with school education, he explains. “Otherwise, in a way, you’re not as competent as you want to be.”
Another problem is “an ever-evolving regulatory maze” of national and EU data-related requirements. Schönwerth lists: numerous data initiatives in the German coalition agreement, GDPR, in perspective the ePrivacy Regulation, Data Governance Act, Data Act, and the AI Act. “This can create uncertainty, especially in medium-sized businesses. If I can’t figure out what I’m allowed to do and what I’m not allowed to do – then when in doubt, I won’t do it. And that’s an innovation inhibitor.” Gabriel Bub