• Digital Single Market

    Moving digital health forward: put your money where your mouth is

    The time to move e-health forward is now as policies on Data Protection and Artificial Intelligence unfold and the negotiations on the new  Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021-2027 begin. Technology is exciting, and we have only seen the tip of t [read more]
    byClemens Martin Auer3 min read
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    The time to move e-health forward is now as policies on Data Protection and Artificial Intelligence unfold and the negotiations on the new  Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021-2027 begin.

    Technology is exciting, and we have only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the opportunities it offers. Digital solutions are increasingly pivotal in Europe and their role in ensuring thriving, future-proof, and sustainable societies is expected to become even more crucial in the coming decades. This is particularly true for the health sector. We all know what Europe’s health systems are up against: financial pressure and the high costs of life-saving medicines, the growing lack of human resources, and the rising burden of chronic diseases against the backdrop of ageing societies. Digital tools can make a difference for health, but only when we decide to be bold about it.

    2018 is an important year for digital health and there is strong momentum to move forward. However, if we are serious about reforming European health systems, we need to make sure that digital solutions can flourish. We need to secure funding in the right places, and put in place structures that allow us to use digital tools effectively, for instance to focus scarce resources and realise integrated care.

    A few structures have already put in place, and we can build on these. One example is the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which took effect in 2018. The GDPR offers a start in ensuring legal alignment with rapid technological innovation, while it provides greater certainty and transparency around the use of data. It also strengthens patient and consumer confidence.

    Another step in the right direction is the recently launched strategy on Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Europe, in which the European Commission outlines its plans to become a leader in AI and to step up investments in AI. At the same time, the European Commission launched a communication on the transformation of health and care on the digital single market.

    The communication underscores the need to reduce the existing fragmentation on the European market. One of its key objectives is to facilitate the cross-border exchange of health data for research and health policy, which is an important challenge to tackle. To illustrate, cross-border health exchange could accelerate the diagnosis of rare diseases, and it could help to find tailored treatment for almost 30 million European citizens suffering from a rare disease. The opportunity is there. We now need to be bold enough to effectively use what we have.

    How can we achieve this? We need the commitment of European countries to work together and establish a fully-fledged pan-European infrastructure for digital health. Now, as the European institutions are negotiating a new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for the 2021-2027 period, is the time to make this happen. We need an investment boost for the new generation of digital infrastructures, to ensure that our healthcare priorities are met with the right tools.

    Austria, which will hold the Presidency of the European Council from 1 July to 31 December 2018, will play an important role in the MFF deliberations and intends to take full advantage of the momentum for change. The country is indeed well-placed to move things forward, having invested more than €100 million in a digital infrastructure through which citizens can access their individual health records.

    Finally, the ways in which digital solutions can help to make Europe’s health systems more sustainable for the benefit of sustainable will be a strong focus of the discussions at this year’s European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG), which will be held from 3-5 October in Bad Hofgastein, Austria. The EHFG 2018 calls for bold decisions and practical solutions for health, which is exactly what we need with the 2030 deadline to meet the Sustainable Development Goals coming closer. It is time to put our money where our mouth is.


    Picture credits:  Mārtiņš Zemlickis




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  • Data Economy

    The golden age of European Earth observation

    Europe has the policy, programs, innovators and market to become a world leader in fostering space technologies for environmental and emergency purposes. In the past two decades, European priorities for space have had a clear focus: not about a race to s [read more]
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    Europe has the policy, programs, innovators and market to become a world leader in fostering space technologies for environmental and emergency purposes.

    In the past two decades, European priorities for space have had a clear focus: not about a race to space, but about making what we do in space relevant to humans down on Earth. Last month, the world watched as Europe launched their latest satellite, Sentinel-5p, making the Copernicus program fully operational and collecting terabytes of data per day.

    When coupled with the operational Galileo program — Europe’s position, navigation and timing constellation — Europe has realized its two-decade goal of an independent Earth observation program for the environment and security, turning the page to begin the golden age of European Earth observation.

    The timing of this next chapter in Europe’s story in space is auspicious, with these large, strategic programs reaching their peak coincident with the growth of new commercial ventures. In 2017, more than 100 Earth observation satellites were launched in a single year, the first time this has ever happened.

    Hundreds of satellites provide concrete social, scientific and economic benefits to billions of individuals. This is truly a global sensing revolution coming from the commercial space sector, with miniaturization and mass production of satellites complemented by the data computation and analytic ecosystem to build novel commercial products.

    The European Commission is now setting its sights on realizing the greatest benefit that can come from these signals for society, from treaty verification to disaster response. With forward-leaning policies to make these data a global, public good, Europe is stimulating commercial uptake of these information feeds and creating a context aware application market.

    Europe is an ideal geography for this to take root. According to the European Association of Remote Sensing Companies, there are over 450 European companies in the Earth observation sector generating over €900 million ($1.05 billion) per year in revenue (and this is before the Sentinel data was turned on.)

    Of these, 63 percent are companies that have less than 10 employees and 96 percent are companies that have less than 50 employees. Small businesses are where jobs are stimulated, experimentation thrives and innovation emerges. To encourage a shift in opportunities for these companies to grow, Europe has set up the Copernicus Masters Challenge to allow for small businesses and entrepreneurs to showcase their prototypes and commercial products.

    Furthermore, the European Space Agency, executing on behalf of the European Commission, has created the Data and Information Access Service initiative to encourage companies to create the platform necessary to process the core remote sensing data to make it easier for new entrants in remote sensing to build applications.

    Additionally, the most recent solicitations are driving a shift toward procuring commercial services as opposed to setting specific, non-commercial requirements. This can lead to the development of a truly commercial ecosystem around both publicly and commercially available Earth information feeds from space.

    Europe has the second largest space budget in the world (EU, ESA and member states combined), and with the speed of innovation we are seeing in commercial space, now is a new time for the public and private sectors to cooperate, support each other’s goals, and grow the economy.

    The emerging commercial space sector plays a unique role in driving technological advancement by accepting more risk, creating novel space architectures and focusing on commercial services utilizing an end-to-end space-to-product development. Moreover, the commercial space sector is increasingly becoming an actor in international affairs, providing policy recommendations, access to top technology and services and products to supplement public resources.

    The right conditions should be created not only for the growth of European companies, but also to attract foreign companies to establish themselves and scale up in Europe. This investment in a commercial market will help the region differentiate its global posture and reinvigorate its indigenous industrial base.

    Europe has the policy, programs, innovators and market to become a world leader in fostering space technologies for environmental and emergency purposes. By understanding how it can shift some of its space portfolios to buy commercial, operational services, while focusing on further-out flagship scientific and exploration missions, the region will position itself as a leader in the commercial space market and kick off a golden age of European Earth observation.

    This op-ed was originally published at spacenews.com
    Picture credits: planet.com



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  • A conversation with

    A website to defy “male dominance” in EU policy debates

    Meet the Brussels Binder, a free online database whose main goal is to tackle female under-representantion in policy debates in Brussels. We interviewed Virginia Marantidou,  a founding member of the initiative – which will be officially launched on 3 [read more]
    byThe Digital Post5 min read
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    Meet the Brussels Binder, a free online database whose main goal is to tackle female under-representantion in policy debates in Brussels. We interviewed Virginia Marantidou,  a founding member of the initiative – which will be officially launched on 31 January – and one of the website/database coordinators along with Alazne Irigoien and Natalia Macyra.

    The Digital Post: Why a Brussels Binder is needed? What makes this initiative necessary?

    Virginia Marantidou: There is an evident under-representation of female voices in policy debates in Brussels. According to EUPanel watch, an initiative that monitors events in Brussels and reports on their gender balance, in 2017 out of 380 debates monitored with over 1700 speakers only 1/3 of them was women. The Brussels Binder aims to address this under-representation.

    The initiative started from a group of women who work in various think-tanks and had a first-hand experience of this situation not only as conference participants but also as organizers. We would often reach out to colleagues to suggest to us speakers and experts for a panel we organized and we would get only male names.

    It was like we had fallen in a loop, every time the same thing. At some point we would email each other and our female networks for recommendations on women experts, and guess what? There were plenty of them out there.

    Similarly, we got fed up with seeing male-dominated or all male panels in Brussels and every time we asked how come there were not enough women or even none in a panel, organizers would answer that they tried but couldn’t find one.

    That is when we realized we needed to take action and somehow give visibility to female policy experts but also eliminate the excuse that “we couldn’t find any woman expert to invite” or “there are not enough women experts on this field”. This is how the Brussels Binder, a database of women experts was conceived, as a go-to resource for media and conference organizers.

    So what makes this initiative necessary? It stems from the necessity to have gender-balanced policy discussions. Policy debates influence actual policy-making and thus they need to be reflective of the societies they take place in.

    TDP: How does it work?

    VM: The BB is a publicly open and free online database of female policy experts. It is really user-friendly and very intuitive to navigate. Women experts can register on our website and once they submit their registration, they are redirected to the profile page where they can fill in fields with their current position, expertise, years of experience, short bio, and other relevant information.

    They also have the opportunity to upload their publications, videos of their participation in debates and whatever information they think is best in order to promote their profile. Then, within 24 to 48 hours the profile goes through a quality check and it is published online.

    I should note that we do not set specific age, years of experience, or areas of expertise criteria as compulsory for someone to be able to create their profile, since we believe that each of us deserves an opportunity to increase their professional profile and in the end your work speaks for you.

    Mistakenly, it is usually considered that only CEOs or senior professionals can be experts or can authoritatively speak on a panel, especially when it comes to women. For us everyone should have a chance.

    Users do not need to register. Anyone can go online, use the search engine, and filter by various fields. Users can also recommend an expert who will then be invited to join the database.

    TDP: What are the activities the BB is planning in the near future?

    VM: We have our official launch on the 31st of January. The event is kindly hosted by the Representation of State of Hessen to the EU and supported by Google and FTI.

    It will be basically a big party to celebrate the fruition of the project but also to celebrate a community that shares our values and concerns, believes in our goals and supports them. But the main focus after the event is to populate the database, have women trust it as a career promotion tool, make sure that users search yields results and a proper matching takes place.

    The end goal is that more women will feature on panels, on the news, and publications in the near future. Last, another goal for us is to have a platform that centralizes information of the various women’s and gender-related initiatives and organizations in Brussels.

    TDP: How digital technologies are relevant for an initiative such Brussels Binder?

    VM: Digital technologies are providing excellent tools to easily share knowledge, connect people and amplify messages. The BB has benefitted on all these aspects. We started with an online crowd-funding campaign.

    This tool did not only help raise funds for the project but also allowed people to be part of it, and by investing their money and time on a common cause it helped forge a community even before we had the actual database. And then we built a tech tool that incorporates knowledge sharing and network building.

    TDP: The ICT sector is considered as a laggard in terms of gender balance. From your point of view, what policies at EU level can help fix this problem? 

    VM: Well although I am not an ICT expert and have not worked in this sector it seems that indeed ICT amongst many other sectors is male-dominated. Specifically the problem is found on the higher echelons of companies. Most major ICT companies nowadays are publishing statistics on their gender balance and diversity, and the steps they take towards more equality and diversity in their people operations.

    Still the number of women in tech is below 20% of the total human power in the sector, according actually to Facebook’s “Diversity Update”. It seems that the problem of low participation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) starts from an early age in first levels of education.

    The reasons amongst others are stereotyping, such as teaching and learning materials permeating gender stereotypes, or girls being less encouraged by parents and teachers to study and follow STEM professionally. Also, lack of role models is another issue, the lack of female teachers in STEM subjects.

    Therefore, I think EU policies should focus on a gender-responsive education on STEM, and on promoting mentoring opportunities, scholarships and access to tools that will help young women follow a STEM/ICT path.


    Picture credits: fotovision47



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  • Future of the Internet

    Surprise! World’s largest telco calls for a ‘Net Neutrality bill’

    AT&T wants US Congress to adopt an Open Internet bill, says its CEO Randall Stephenson in an open letter. A new spectacular turn in the US saga over Net Neutrality? Some might see it as a new spectacular turn in the US saga over Net Neutrality. In an [read more]
    byThe Digital Post3 min read
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    AT&T wants US Congress to adopt an Open Internet bill, says its CEO Randall Stephenson in an open letter. A new spectacular turn in the US saga over Net Neutrality?

    Some might see it as a new spectacular turn in the US saga over Net Neutrality. In an open letter issued yesterday, AT&T Ceo Randal Stephenson called on US Congress ‘to establish an “Internet Bill of Rights” that applies to all internet companies and guarantees neutrality, transparency, openness, non-discrimination and privacy protection for all internet users’.

    The text marks an unprecedented step, which might have an impact coming from the world’s largest telecommunication company.

    In the letter, Stephenson assures AT&T will stay committed to the open internet principles, but argues ‘that commitment of one company is not enough’, signaling that ‘congressional action is needed’.

    Internet rights’ apart, the stance of AT&T is also driven by the perceived risk that the endless legal battle over Net Neutrality is producing too much uncertainty, at the expense of investment decisions.

    ‘Regulators under four different presidents have taken four different approaches. Courts have overturned regulatory decisions. [..] It’s understandably confusing and a bit concerning when you hear the rules have recently changed, yet again’, writes Stephenson.

    In December the FCC reversed the decision voted in 2015 to reclassify high-speed Internet service as a telecommunications service, instead of an information service, under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.

    Taken in order to enforce strict net neutrality rules on Internet service providers, the precedent decision had de facto exposed Internet providers to the possibility of heavy regulation dating back to “the phone company era”, although FCC had opted to apply only some provisions of Title II.

    The new vote restores a light-touch approach, but the last word has not been said, as the decision is being challenged in federal courts, where it could be stuck for years.

    The text signed by Stephenson follows another open letter to FCC signed by 141 members of the EP pleading for a Net Neutrality bill in the US. The EU adopted its own net neutrality legislation in November 2015.


    Picture Credits: Ozzy Delaney




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  • A conversation with

    Nikos Pappas: How Greece is catching up on digital technologies

    We are a "latecomer" in the introduction and exploitation of new technologies. However, there is political will to continue the necessary reforms at a rapid pace, says Nikos Pappas, Greek Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media. The Digi [read more]
    byThe Digital Post6 min read
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    We are a “latecomer” in the introduction and exploitation of new technologies. However, there is political will to continue the necessary reforms at a rapid pace, says Nikos Pappas, Greek Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media.

    The Digital Post: What are the key points of Greece’s National Digital Strategy? What do you expect to achieve in the long term?

    Nikos Pappas: The Greek economy, after 7 years of crisis and recession, has shown several signs of recovery. Growth has returned after many years and it is expected to reach 2% for 2017, unemployment has fallen by 6% over the past 2.5 years, while new jobs exceed the number of 350,000 from 2015 until now.

    At the same time, investment grew by 11.2% in the first half of 2017, the general industrial production index by 6% in the same period, exports increased by 25.8% in May 2017 and tourism broke a new record of 30 million arrivals in our country for 2017.
    But these figures are not meant to stay on paper.

    Our government’s goal is to diffuse the benefits of growth across society, that is to achieve an equitable growth. As Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media, we are already contributing to the joint effort to exit the crisis and rebuild society by combining new technologies with science, knowledge and entrepreneurship.

    By making all citizens participate in the new digital revolution, eliminating the digital divide and offering equal opportunities to all Greeks, we give the country a new push forward.

    Our digital policy is in accordance with the objectives set by our National Strategic Plan for Growth, as for us, this sector consists the “main sector of all sectors of the economy”. This is a strategic pillar of development, on which we are going to “build” the growth of all the other sectors – while in the meantime we will make good use of the high level of human potential that we have as a country – and, thanks to the resulting multiplier effects, we will “prepare” the next day for Greece.

    In view of the above, we have designed and developed the National Digital Strategy which focuses among other things on:

    1. Accelerating the digitization of the economy and 2. the transition of Greek businesses from a traditional to a modern mode of operation, which explores and integrates Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).

    In this context, we have set the following four priorities: i) Promoting the digitization of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), (ii) Enhancing openness and e-commerce, having as key aims the dissemination of e-commerce and e-invoicing, (iii) Greece’s participation in the 4th Industrial Revolution, supporting actions related to the introduction and expansion of sensor networks, smart grids, autonomous systems, and the implementation of “smart cities” actions – as operators of creating critical mass for the development of relevant technologies by Greek companies, (iv) Accelerating the coordination of national policy for the Single Digital Market with the operation of a central structure that will act as a center of digital excellence.

    Our goal is to strengthen our competitiveness and productivity without leaving any citizen behind. Our goal is to bring “the future into the present, for everyone”.

    TDP: Greece suffers from relatively low levels of digital literacy and digital skills. What are the plans to tackle this issue?

    NP: We have no illusions about where our country stands: due to responsibilities of previous governments we have stayed behind. We are now ranked 26th in the DESI index against 28 countries in Europe, as we have achieved one of the top five performances in the EU in the last year.

    We are a “latecomer” in the introduction and exploitation of new technologies. However, there is political will to continue the necessary reforms at a rapid pace, but also to take advantage of the highly skilled workforce (with more than 5,000 graduates each year in cutting-edge sectors of technology) that the country has, without leaving society behind.

    We are working in collaboration with Panteion University on the first platform for Greece of massive open online courses (MOOCs) with very first subject the Education in Media and Digital Technologies. We want the citizens of the country and – above all – children and young people to be able to decrypt, encode and process modern technologies. We want them not only to be the recipients of this signal, but also creators and equal partners in a development effort based on knowledge and information economy. We want citizens to feel safe and confident in managing new technology and data. And we make it real.

    High-speed networks are also included in our planning, so that every corner of the country, every household in Greece reaches a fiber optic network.

    Two major nationwide projects – the ‘Superfast Broadband’ and ‘Rural Extension’ projects – with a total budget of around € 500 million, have already been approved for the deployment of a nationwide broadband access network in urban, island, mountainous and minority areas. The two projects are fully compatible with the EU-approved National Plan for the Development of Next Generation Networks (NGA Plan). The process has already begun for the development of the state-of-the-art technological infrastructure needed for the country in order to carry out the transition to the digital economy and to create a new competitive development model.

    Moreover, our action on the development of the Internet in the Greek islands is focused on the provision of state subsidies to the permanent residents of thirty-five (35) remote Aegean islands in order to acquire a mobile broadband Internet connection for about 11,000 households and at least 22,000 eligible citizens. Our goal is to achieve a significant increase in the penetration of broadband in the Greek territory, but also to make the beneficiaries familiar with the modern and rapidly evolving broadband services and applications.

    A similar program has already been implemented for the first-year students of Greek Universities and Technological Educational Institutions, and will soon be extended to benefit vulnerable social groups such as Persons with Disabilities.
    Worth mentioning, among other actions, is the project of the digitization of Public Administration: a project on digital circulation-management of state documents, in which digital signatures will be used.

    A pilot project was initially implemented at the Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Information. Its cost for the Sate rose over 59.5 thousand euros, which will be recovered from the first month of its operation, as the annual savings expected for our Ministry will amount to 700.000 euros. In the following period the same system will be installed in all Ministries, and then will pass to Local Government Administration and Chambers. Due to the operation of the new platform, besides the digitization of Public Administration, we are estimated to achieve savings of 400 million euro per year for the entire public sector.

    TDP: One bright spot is Greece’s thriving startup scene. How the government is supporting its development?

    NP: It is our main priority to create a favorable environment for start-ups in the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) field. Supporting the openness of start-ups and forming business clusters as well as research and development support actions have begun to bear fruit and their completion will be stepped up in the future.

    Another worth mentioning initiative is the integration of businesses involved in the sector into the Needs Entrepreneurship Program, which provides about 120 million Euros for the support of Greek start-ups. In addition, as part of private initiative funding, we participate in the “Fund of Funds” program, which, in cooperation with the European Investment Fund, provides financing of 260 million euros to small and medium-sized enterprises, giving priority to ICT.

    TDP: What are from your point of view the most important actions of the European digital single market strategy?

    NP: I recently welcomed in Greece the Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, Mariya Gabriel. It was her first trip to a member state after taking up her duties. We are collaborating closely with the Commissioner on a number of issues, including the modernization of public services, which, as it is clear, goes through their digitization.

    I think we are halfway in terms of our transition to the digital single market. If we succeed in what consists the first priority of Digital Policies for Europe and which is nothing else but the development of digital skills of European citizens, then we will actually make the difference.

    Besides, to us, everything starts from and ends up to the citizens. It is for their sake that we want to bring the future into the present. Actually, it is for everyone’s sake.


    Picture credit: Theophilos Papadopoulos 




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  • Innovation

    Discover how a Greek student uncovers fake news

    Valentinos Tzekas, is a 20 year-old student born in Larissa, but already a serial entrepreneur. After an early success with the social network ‘’Near’’ he has developed an algorithm to fight fake news... TDP: What is considered truth accor [read more]
    byThe Digital Post4 min read
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    Valentinos Tzekas, is a 20 year-old student born in Larissa, but already a serial entrepreneur. After an early success with the social network ‘’Near’’ he has developed an algorithm to fight fake news…

    TDP: What is considered truth according to FightHoax.com?

    Valentinos Tzekas: True for our algorithm is what independent, non-for-profit news sources like Associated Press have fact-checked and already covered. Also, we are considering truth, what independent fact-checking organizations like Politifact, Snopes and others have fact-checked.

    TDP: How does FightHoax work?

    VT: First of all, FightHoax analyses the history and reputation of the website which hosts a given news article: Is the website known for posting a lot of fake news like abcnews.com.co, is the website known for posting consecutively trusted articles like the Associated Press or something more in the middle like Fox News or Daily Mail? Then, FightHoax analyses the author of the article and his history. Is it a well known with a reputable past in respected news outlets, is it someone who is a university teacher or someone with no active past in the news industry?

    At last and more importantly, the article is analyzed. From the language used to the facts stated, we compare every tiny aspect of the article with more trusted articles on the same topic. FightHoax reads and understands the article like a human. At the same time, we scan the whole web, like a database, in seconds. Do the other articles on the same event, have important differences? Has the article enough information for us to compare? Is the language quality good? Is the syntactic similarity high but not the semantic one?

    These are the 3 main pillars of FightHoax’s algorithm. After having analyzed hundreds and hundreds of articles, each variable has almost the perfect mathematical weight.

    TDP: What is your vision for FightHoax after the beta period? Who you aim to be the ultimate users?

    VT: My long-term vision is to help the everyday people. As I said before: “Right now, if you think about it, politicians and journalists have the “power of truth”. My mission is to give normal people the power of truth—make them more powerful without the need of having journalistic skills.”

    TDP: How big is the threat of fake news? Do you believe European governments are exaggerating the risks?

    VT: Fact checking articles are exploding, people got misguided in both US and French elections, Macedonian teenager quit college to focus on writing false news so he can earn more than both of his parents, 42% of people said that they don’t trust news on Facebook because “it hasn’t done a good job of curbing fake news.” Germany approved a plan to fine social media companies up to 50 million Euros, every single day, if they fail to remove fake news posts. Yet, Facebook and Google are trying to solve the mass misinformation issue with just one more report button. I do believe that the very next months, we are going to be hit by the next wave of misinformation. We have to be prepared.

    TDP: Do you think there is a risk that government efforts to tackle fake news be could come in contradiction with the respect of freedom of expression on the internet? And, more importantly, do you think that it is possible to counter the phenomenon through legislation?

    VT: I do believe that we need a human level solution. Legislations and high tech are not going to fix the problem. We need media literacy platforms and initiatives.

    This is why, we are trying to tackle the fake news problem on a human level by exposing every angle of any news story, in seconds. We do not need truth-or-not machines. Critical thinking and quality news consumption skills is a must skill-set for every 2.0 citizen.

    TDP: What kind of challenges do you think that a young entrepreneur in Greece faces compared to other EU peers?

    VT: I think that in Greece we have lost our hope. We have become miserable and this is much worse than being poor. When I was 18, I shared some of my thoughts with Forbes. You can read them, here. I still believe and support the same as a serial entrepreneur acting in Greece. Sooner or later, I will move my business and my life, abroad.


    Photo credits by: Bank Phrom



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  • Digital Single Market

    Regulating Platforms, again?!

    Rather than following its commitment to embracing non-legislative but self regulatory solutions, the Commission is about to undertake a second attempt in clamping down on platforms. Platforms are recognised for a while now as the prevailing model for th [read more]
    byLenard Koschwitz5 min read
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    Rather than following its commitment to embracing non-legislative but self regulatory solutions, the Commission is about to undertake a second attempt in clamping down on platforms.

    Platforms are recognised for a while now as the prevailing model for the digital economy. Finally entrepreneurs can spend time doing what they do best without having to be part-accountants, salesmen, IT-experts, web-developers or part-whatever. Building a business pre-platform was like digging out your house from snow before you actually could go in. Every day.

    Platforms triggered an explosion of new startups who benefit from lower entry barriers and fractional costs when launching a business. We see new platforms emerging and even platform to platform (P2P) solutions.

    Not only entrepreneurs but also users are becoming very aware of what they are good at and start to focus, in a nonchalant way, on what they do best and chose the most convenient way to buy a ticket or save their documents. As individuals we are becoming more aware of our strengths and skills. This seems like a very logical continuation of the separation of labour. Not everyone has to do everything.

    While startups and entrepreneurs across the planet are still in the buzz of grasping the opportunities they now have to change the world, the conversation policy makers have is taking a different turn.

    ‘Fairness in Platform-to-business relations’ reads the European Commission’s work programme for 2018. Search results reveal that P2B is a term solely used in the political Europe and its notion is imminent, impending and even threatening if we attend to some of the stories around. The motivation seems less like a solid legal concept but more like a feeling; a feeling that something must be wrong. If we do something about fairness we presume that the current situation is unfair.

    The motivation of the proposal limps for several reasons. First of all it highlights how the European Commission has pivoted and adapted their story over the years, changing its position more than once. A wide-ranging consultation in 2015 and 2016 resulted in no justification for sweeping legislation on platforms.

    Part of the reason at the time was that the lawmakers did not manage to define what they were talking about. Considering platforms as matchmakers in multi sided markets, the Commission was not able to find evidence that there are structural problems. On the contrary, benefits of platforms overweight and the Commission committed to embracing non-legislative but self regulatory solutions .[1]

    Rather than following this commitment the Commission undertook a second attempt in clamping down on platforms. This time it follows a “problem based approach”.

    Licenses and copyright protected content would not be sufficiently protected on online platforms, so the lawmakers say. The draft legislation[2] that followed goes by far beyond its declared scope, obliging crowdfunding platforms, blogs, online shops or developer platforms to restrict parts of their content and conclude licenses similar to those of Spotify or Youtube for the rest of it.

    This is by far the only area where “government comes after platforms”. Policy makers are quick in pushing responsibility on platforms about all kinds of controversial content or use or make often unrealistic demands[3].

    All in all, the discussion often seems polarised and naive. It is true that technology can achieve more than eyes and hands, but this mustn’t mean that long established and enshrined principles of power and responsibility have to be shifted to technology. Many of the policy advances seem half-assesses and are sending mixed messages.

    Coming back to platforms. We should ask ourselves if we really want to adopt regulation clamping down on e-commerce like asos, Zalando, HelloFresh, Lieferando, Deliveroo, payment platforms like Adyen, Klarna, Stripe or Transferwise? Platforms as business model brings producers, consumers, partners and owners together in ways that go far beyond what some of our political elites feel uncomfortable with Amazon, Google, Booking, ebay or Apple?

    Is it all new? Part of the accusation is that a handful of platforms, which happen not to be founded or headquartered in Europe, abuse their position, do not provide enough transparency, push unfair contractual arrangements and keep valuable insights from data to themselves.

    If we look back in time or into other sectors like retail supermarkets, we find that such practises are neither new nor necessarily abusive. The question arises: Why does the European Commission now want to intervene and not before. Or did we ever speak about where a “fair” position for products in a supermarket is or if it’s “fair” if Delhaize launches own brands on those products that sell well?

    What’s the logic? It might seem easy and opportunistic to give in to the immediate picture of “big platform abuses power vs small business,” but such behaviour would not make sense in reality. As a platform you don’t only care about but you rely on business users. If there is no trust and users are unhappy with the product they will leave, regardless how big a platform is.

    But let’s be clear, apart from some individual stories the image of platforms as malicious black boxes has never been supported by evidence.

    Missing the point? So why is it that startups launch much faster today than before? Why do we experience a democratisation of entrepreneurship and a “wave of European innovative startups,” as President Juncker put it? For one part it is because we have the technology at our fingertips, i.e. startups as well as their users can easily afford the devices they need to interact on a marketplace.

    Secondly it is because technology allows us to offer products of scale. Once a startup develops a software product or service, the majority of the sales, marketing and subscription service can be automated. So if we give in to one of the assumptions of the European Commission, that business clients cannot negotiate fair contracts with platforms – that actually is for a good reason because obliging them to put a lawyer behind every contract would do nothing less than rendering the entire advantage of technology useless.

    Is it all about B2P? It seems evident that the Commission wants to stick up for businesses that have experienced issues with platforms. If such issues exist and deserve attention, first and foremost by the platform itself. Digital savvy consumers, startup entrepreneurs and pretty much anyone reacts to bad customer service and redress.

    And if choice is limited that this might actually be a case for competition authorities rather than for legislators. The legislator rightfully envisaged this as one of the policy options which seems the most adequate and least invasive for startups in Europe and across the world as they offer the most efficient and speedy solution to problems when they arise. Startups don’t want to wait month or years for regulation and its enforcement to see it unfit for current realities and technologies.

    Picture credits: Shelley Ginger




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  • Digital Single Market

    A glimpse of the digital debate in Brussels

    On November 27th, at the Egmont Palace, a rather extravagant but always elegant venue in the heart of Brussels, the Think Digital Summit took place. The Digital Post could not have missed the opportunity of attending It is the second year the Think Digit [read more]
    byMaria Georgiadou5 min read
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    On November 27th, at the Egmont Palace, a rather extravagant but always elegant venue in the heart of Brussels, the Think Digital Summit took place. The Digital Post could not have missed the opportunity of attending

    It is the second year the Think Digital Summit runs by the initiative of the European Business Summit. This year’s Summit touched upon issues such as data protection and privacy of consumers and citizens, growth of SME’s and Start Ups within the Digital Single Market, and last on critical digital infrastructure for developing a 5G network across Europe. The speakers were MEP’s, EU officials, policy makers, and representatives from the business sector. The Summit was smartly structured into three thematic panels in form of debates mainly polarizing between speakers from public institutions defending EU policies and corporate representatives advocating on business interests. The debate formation was not only vibrant managing to keep the participants interest alive for more than 6 hours but also gave us the opportunity to witness diverse interests and objectives collide or concede depending on the speakers’ background and the topic discussed.

    In his opening keynote speech Giovanni Buttarelli, the European Data Protection Supervisor acknowledged the increasing demand for transparency and the need for all individual voices to be heard and transposed. Building on his statement, he pointed out an ‘‘unfair balance’’ between corporations handling a big amount of data, and on the other hand citizens merely giving away valuable personal data, oblivious of this transaction. Having framed this imbalance he labelled opacity as the biggest threat set to individuals and suggested this threat should be tackled by regulation.

    Data Protection and Privacy of the European Digital Future

    The topic which ignited a rather polemic but nevertheless constructive debate was the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or officially Regulation 2016/679 (Click here) and which monopolized the discussion of the first panel. According to EU officials the GDPR objective is to achieve an equilibrium between the full respect of fundamental human rights and business development, being at the same time an innovation friendly regulation. GDPR comes into force at the end of May 2018, so we will have to wait and see whether it will reach its full potential and purpose. Furthermore, this regulation comes to repeal an older E-Privacy Directive (Directive 95/46/EC), with the intention to achieve full integration and harmonization of implementation across the E.U. Highlighting the value of the innovation friendly design for the business sector, Despina Spanou, Director of DG CNECT, also strongly advocated for the need to empower consumers to have full control of their communication and to be asked to consent or not to sharing their data. ‘‘Consent has to be affirmative, not implicit’’, she asserted.

    Responding to Mrs. Spanou,  Mr. Louette, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Orange, joked ‘‘Beware of Greeks bearing gifts’’ which although was a great ice breaker, it also made a clear-cut statement regarding his position towards the GDPR . He expressed his fears on restrictions on data use in businesses, stressing the need to balance regulation so that it does not hinder business activity. The issue of labelling almost everything as ‘‘personal data’’ was also brought up, pointing out the need to define the term more effectively. Furthermore, Mr. Louette argued that using personal data, such as people’s locations, can enable companies analyse the data and produce smarted public services where needed.  Last, he revealed that Orange wants to create a data dashboard for its customers from where they could monitor the cyberspaces they had left traces of their personal data.

    Boosting Growth for SME’s and Start-Ups in the Digital Single Market

    Digital is not a new industry, it is the way all SME’s and Start-ups should operate, says Katarzyna Jakimowicz, Associate Director of the Lisbon Council. The biggest issues SME’s have to tackle are to sell their products internationally, and to expand their limited knowledge of digital advertising tools. In some countries like Bulgaria, online purchases account for below 30 per cent of overall purchases, which discourages companies in these countries to advertise online at all. The major issues raised in this panel were once again regulation harmonization, this time on e-commerce and work mobility, and the business responsibility to create windows of opportunity for smaller businesses to grow. Nevertheless, the most interesting points were raised by Mrs. Jakimowicz on the existing, as she calls it, ‘‘talent and soft skills gap’’ referring to SME’s difficulty to access talent and digital skills domestically making the need for EU regulation on remote work more relevant and urgent than ever. The lack of communication between SME’s and institutions when it comes to funding and support mechanisms was discussed, bringing up that the European Innovation Council (Click here) will give €2,7 billion on SME’s, and in terms of promoting and supporting growth, the EU has initiatives such as The Startup Europe Project (Click here) helping SME’s develop.

    Digital Infrastructure towards Maximum Connectivity

    ‘‘Bad connection is like no connection at all, thus we should aim towards high speed maximum connectivity’’ says Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, MEP for S&D.

    The third and last panel focused on the advent of 5G network and the issues that need to be dealt with along the way. Issues that will arise on setting up a 5G network are building the necessary infrastructure to support the regular function of the network and the urgent need to regulate in order to create a safe environment for investors and in order to protect competition and innovation. Furthermore, it was repeatedly argued that this transition will not just be a transition from 4G, as it happened from 3G to 4G, it is a new technology that would change our lives and apply in a diversity of human activities such as transport and health industries, but unfortunately further elaboration and more tangible examples as to in what ways this network would revolutionize our everyday lives were not given.

    Take Away Messages

    An equilibrium between citizen’s protection and business development and innovation needs to be set, and the DGPR aspires to do so.

    More initiatives need to be launched at EU level in order to boost and support SME’s access to soft digital skills and funding mechanisms.

    Regulation on harmonization of rules on e-commerce and remote working are urgent.

    In achieving a 5G network there are still a lot of issues to be tackled, such as critical infrastructure and regulation on safety to attract investors.

    Overall I found the Summit very interesting and relevant. The structure of the sessions was constructive in terms of content and interaction between the speakers. The topics discussed were all relevant to current digital affairs and analysed sufficiently; I am afraid though with the exception of the 5G topic where more tangible arguments could have been delivered by the speakers. Questions by the participants were welcomed and answered with directness and in a meticulous fashion. Furthermore, the venue was grandiose, some might argue over the top, but still interesting to see, and last the services provided, such as food and drinks were satisfactory, although perhaps wider variety of food would have left participants with  impressions. For now we can only wait for the next Think Digital Summit in December next year and wonder what novelties we are to anticipate on.

    Photo credit: pixabay.com



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  • Startup Economy

    Filtering Obligations: Don’t torpedo startups in Europe

    How a law to reign in large platforms will end up costing large platforms least of all. Policy making is, by nature, one step behind technology because it tends to focus on (and is lobbied by) today’s companies. When lawmakers, however, by virtue of un [read more]
    byLenard Koschwitz7 min read
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    How a law to reign in large platforms will end up costing large platforms least of all.

    Policy making is, by nature, one step behind technology because it tends to focus on (and is lobbied by) today’s companies. When lawmakers, however, by virtue of universally applicable and EU-wide laws, try to come after a hand full of big players, society and smaller startups suffer. With the Copyright Directive, the EU risks shooting itself in the foot. Worse even, it is launching a torpedo at its own vision of becoming a startup continent. Here is the gist of it:

    The proposal to filter online content fundamentally misses its aim. By targeting a few big video platforms, it will ultimately uplift and fence their market share. The scope of the proposal is flawed. While intending to govern only licensed content, it targets all types of content and all platforms regardless of licenses or copyright.

    Filtering itself is technically ineffective and will cause more damage than good on the internet. Seemingly easy on text through hashing but disproportionately expensive for anything more complex or even impossible. The suggested filtering technology will raise the cost of launching a startup in Europe and drive talent away.

    First-buried-then-leaked evidence suggest it will not solve the problem anyway. For all of us it will result in lower quality, less variety and content online, as the law favours those who delete content.

    Let’s take this in turns. To start, the proposal aims to address a grievance by rightsholders, namely the fact that certain large platforms don’t pay as much as the content industry is wishing for. While it’s one thing whether we want laws in favour of individual industries, this proposal will actually not do anything to abate this discord.

    Ironically, this proposal makes it even more likely that small platforms and innovative startups pick up the tab, as they don’t have the market power and legal teams to go through thousands of licensing agreements. To be clear: Startup founders fully respect creation and its remuneration. But this law is drafted in entire disregard of Europe’s startups and its citizens’ fundamental rights.

    Besides fundamentally missing the target, the proposal is carpet bombing the entire digital world. Regardless of whether one uses licensed content or not, everyone will now have to enact a costly regulatory prescription. Content can range from images over text, audio visual content, objects to code.

    While policy makers probably would have liked the idea of squeezing one online video platform into the business model of another, their proposal made startup founders across Europe worry about their future. Github, for example, is an open source code-sharing platform that helps developers to stay on top of trends.

    It too, would be within the scope of this law. Another example are crowdfunding platforms that, by design, host content uploaded by users. Is this where copyright infringement happens? Again, the scope of this law overreaches its aim and creates more problem than solutions.

    Content industries may be yelling about a problem but it is lawmakers’ duty to find a proportionate solution for everyone in our society. In this case, technology can’t offer what politics wants. Several examples underline this: Shapeways, a 3D printing marketplace, hosts more than 300,000 pieces of copyrightable content per month but processed fewer than 1,000 copyright notices in 2016. Which were based on the description, not products themselves and in most cases unsubstantiated.

    Earlier examples of crowdfunding platforms, code-sharing platforms or e-commerce are no different. Because content recognition does not yet exist in an affordable and efficient way these startups can either break the law or break ties with Europe and move where common sense governs. Anyways, they are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

    With audio files, a comparatively easily recognisable content, state of the art fingerprinting techniques resulted in error rates of 1-2%. Sounds acceptable? In comparison, spam filters for emails get dismissed as unsuitable with error rates of 0.1%. These cases illustrate: Filtering is ineffective with some types of content, and non-existent for others.

    Even if filtering were to work properly across all formats, it would price many innovative ideas out of the European market. Studies have underlined this. Unlike an assessment by the European Commission suggested, filtering does not cost 900 Euro per month, but easily between 10.000 and 50.000. If the average initial funding of a startup was 150k, you can ask yourself whether you want to launch that company or just run your idea through a bad filter for three month.

    Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform, hosted 366.622 projects since its inception. In 2015 it received copyright infringement notices targeting a mere 215 projects, only one third of which were valid complaints.

    If article 13 of the proposed copyright directive became reality, the removal of 100 out of over 366.622 projects would easily cost 500.000€ annually. Why? Because some policy makers think a straightforward notice-and-takedown procedure is not enough. What was it again about proportionality in law?

    When filtering is prescribed with complex and expensive rules, companies will be inclined to remove content rather than run the risk of getting sued. And who are platforms do decide if that video or drawing is a copyright infringement or parody, or maybe an entirely new work?

    While so far a well founded notice triggers removal, in future the benefit of the doubt will be with an armada of copyright trolls chasing anyone hosting content. The result will be less variety and content available online. This ranges from creative content of any kind to critical thought Here is a  proposal that will lead to less investment, less startups and less free speech. Right before half of the world’s population will be able to benefit from a free internet, the most developed continent will go partly dark.

    There are a myriad of startups like Kickstarter and Shapeways or Github. And even more young and talented Europeans are planning the next generation of content platforms today.

    The collateral damage of such out-of-touch legislation is not only a shot in the foot of Europe’s ambition to become a startup continent, but also a  contribution to a generation of entrepreneurs seeking success elsewhere. Europe will be stuck with companies that are already big enough to comply or those who never want to be that big.

    Startups are not one single industry but innovate across all sectors. They are the most mobile companies we’ve ever seen and are successful because they approach problems differently. Regulators are still catching up to this reality.

    While there is no simple answer to copyright, building walls will have unintended effects while missing the actual aim. Exempting startups, as suggested before will not crack the nut because startups aren’t SMEs. What then?

    There is a vocal debate ongoing outside mainstream media on twitter, here and here. While the Parliament keeps postponing a decision the time is right to bring these topics further to the top.


    Picture Credits: Frankieleon



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  • Digital Single Market

    Poland’s digital priorities in a data-driven future

    The Digital Post has spoken with Krzysztof Szubert, Polish Secretary of State in charge of Digital Single Market: There should be more clarity and organization in the way different European commissioners are involved in the digital files. The Digital Pos [read more]
    byThe Digital Post5 min read
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    The Digital Post has spoken with Krzysztof Szubert, Polish Secretary of State in charge of Digital Single Market: There should be more clarity and organization in the way different European commissioners are involved in the digital files.

    The Digital Post: You were appointed in march Secretary of State, responsible for international affairs at the Ministry of Digital Affairs in Poland. But you are not a politician.

    Krzysztof Szubert: Indeed, I spent 20 years in business, running different types of ICT companies. So I am more of an expert in the field. Two years ago, I was asked by the government to join the team as strategic advisor to the Minister of Digital Affairs Mrs. Anna Streżynska to help implement a more project-oriented way of working.

    We created a new ministry for digital affairs embarking more people with a business background so as to have a wider expertise within our administration, as well as in management – governance. In March, along with the post of secretary of state, I have also been appointed government plenipotentiary for the coordination of the Digital Single Market Strategy in Poland. In this capacity, I deal with different ministries in order to enable the nationwide implementation of the DSM.


    TDP: What are the priorities of your government in Europe in terms of digital policies?

    KS: We have been pushing through a large number of files. In Poland we are basically focused on: infrastructure, eGov, eSkills and Cybersecurity. On EU level it is more like: 5G, platforms, cyber and the most important free flow of (non-personal) data. For instance, together with 13 other countries, Poland urged the Commission to take action on free flow of data which resulted in the recent presentation of the free flow of data initiative.

    We were quick to realise that it was difficult for us to focus on too many technological issues other countries were very active in and advance, such as the Internet of Things or autonomous vehicles. Therefore, we decided to concentrate our efforts on a fewer number of topics the most important of which is data economy.

    Apart from the free flow of data initiative, we have been very active for instance in advocating for more freedom of data exchange in trade agreements. We have been leading the way in calling for the removal of protectionist measures that prevent our businesses from making the most of the opportunities of the data economy.


    TDP: What about future actions?

    KS: We are taking a step further. We want to show how important data are for our economy and what their real value in terms of GDP or Euro is. According to a study that our ministry commissioned, data-driven productivity accounts for 40% of total productivity and has a significant impact on GDP per capita.

    Hence the importance of focusing on this field to reap the highest possible economic benefits. The economy in the future will depend more and more on data. In order to seize this opportunity, Europe has to prepare for this transformation. We want to lead the way in this work, but it is always good to remember that digital transformation – we are in front of – is about people, not technology.


    TDP: Making the most of data economy is also a priority for the Digital Single Market strategy. Do you think the strategy is delivering? What are the main obstacles you see?

    KS: I see two areas to work on. The first one is about coordination, both on the EU and member states level I believe there should be more clarity and organization in the way different commissioners are involved in the digital files and strategy in order to avoid confusion.

    The second issue is about trust among member states: The good example is “digital” Like-Minded group of member states and I would strongly recommend others to join that informal group. We need more of it. In principle, all governments agree that we need to build a digital single market but when it comes to details they start disagreeing a lot.

    I think we should come to terms with the idea that the DSM will provide varying benefits to our states, perhaps there will be winners next to losers in some areas. Nevertheless the long term benefits DSM can bring about for Europe will compensate for everything. Our governments are spending perhaps too much time discussing whether or not to act now. Other economies, the ones which we are competing with, such as China or the US, are not waiting for us to catch up with them.


    TDP: What we are discussing a lot right now is the so-called web tax. What is your position?

    KS: The idea came from Italy, Germany, France, Spain. Before we take a position we have to see the details first. We are not against this taxation but we made clear that we are against putting it through European models, such as the common corporate tax base (CCTB) and a common consolidated corporate tax base (CCCTB). We’d prefer to leave it to national level, through a sort of an equalization tax or an equalization levy, or to promote an action within the OECD framework.

    Picture credits: Tim Parkinson



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