Once again, data is at the center of the issue.
An article by The Street outlines how the EU's competition commissioner is raising the possibility that the EU could crack down on companies that use "unique data" to maintain a competitive edge.
That article quoted EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager as saying, "It's true that we shouldn't be suspicious of every company which holds a valuable set of data...But we do need to keep a close eye on whether companies control unique data, which no one else can get hold of, and can use it to shut their rivals out of the market." She added that "if we do find that companies are undermining competition, we won't hesitate to take action."
This warning is being viewed as a restriction facing the use of big data in Europe. That could be true. However, the big question for me: What does she mean by "unique data"?
I've seen the term used in conjunction with data tools such as Excel with reference to removing duplicate rows or values in a database. I really doubt that the competition commissioner is thinking at the row level. "Unique data" also is slipping into marketing nomenclature as consultants and others say they will help organizations develop "unique" data strategies.
I suppose you could say data that is unique to a company -- such as which customers bought which products for what price -- would be unique data. Is utilizing that data to advance the company an unfair advantage? Not in the minds of any business person I've ever met or heard speak. Restricting use of that legitimate data would strain the boundaries of fairness.
When we think of big data, two core types of data come to mind. First, there is data that a customer or website user provides to the company, whether it's Google, Facebook, or some widget maker. I won't get into the issue of whether customers and site users "voluntarily" provide that data. Does the EU expect that a company will stop gathering that data? Or, maybe the union expects that company to share the data with its rivals?
Neither makes sense.
The second type of data in a big data strategy is publicly available data, that from government sources or data brokers. That data certainly isn't unique because it's available to everyone.
So I'm left wondering what would give some European company or a US company doing business in Europe what the EU would judge to be an unfair advantage.
Doesn't it seem that the EU's leaders either are desperate to impose control over legitimate business, or that those leaders just don't understand what big data is all about?