TALLINN - The spread of digital technologies into all areas of life has been accompanied by a global surge in the volume of data by economies and societies, and Estonia could be a pioneer in helping countries in the European Union adapt to this process, according to the latest report by the Estonian Foresight Center.
"The rate at which data traces are left in the digital environment in the course of day-to-day life grew tangibly as a result of the coronavirus crisis as in addition to digital communication and shopping, the area also saw emerge digital learning and teleworking," Tea Danilov, head of the Foresight Center, said in a press release. The next data surge in everyday life will be caused by home appliances being connected to the internet, which will arrive with the spread of 5G technology-based data networks.
"More and more data is added at an expedited pace -- the added volume of data per year is doubled within the following three years," Danilov said.
Expert at the Foresight Center Johanna Vallistu said that data is an increasingly extensive source of added value but the majority of highly useful data belongs to major technology companies.
"For the European Union, it is definitely one of the most complicated aspects of coping with the surge in the volume of data because the starting point for Europe is that data about a person belongs to the person themselves. At present, no business models based on this principle that everyone controls the data about themselves have proven successful in the market, however. Therefore, the future remains quite undecided," Vallistu noted.
The expert noted that a possible solution is improving the data competence of the society and empowering individuals to manage the data about themselves.
"For example, the report points out an option to create data associations that would represent the data sharing rights of large numbers of people similarly to organizations handling the copyrights of creative persons. If we could roll out a functional model like this in Estonia, we might be able to repeat our success story with e-residency in the field of data," she said. At present, balance is still being sought in the European Union between data protection and economic development, according to Vallistu.
Considering that consistent data traces are being left by the activities of people, businesses, machines and even the nature, the environmental footprint of data has begun growing as well, according to the report. The global carbon emissions by cloud services used for storing data total 2.5-3.7 percent, exceeding that by aviation, which is close to 2.4 percent.
"According to some prognoses, the share of the data industry will account for some 21 percent of the global consumption of electricity by 2030," Vallistu said. "States are faced with the dilemma if and how it is possible to simultaneously develop the data economy as well as care for the environment."