Tech groups call for changes to EU data-sharing proposals

The chief executives of five leading EU tech groups have called for Brussels to amend proposed data-sharing legislation, saying the new rules would force them to give up trade secrets and hand a competitive advantage to China.

The intervention by the heads of SAP, Brainlab, Datev, Siemens and Siemens Healthineers — a separate company — marks the latest backlash from tech companies against the EU’s Data Act, part of a string of digital rules aimed at giving Europe a competitive advantage on data access.

The chief executives have written to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen asking for a pause to allow changes to the proposals, which spring from a sense among European regulators that the bloc lost out to the US in the past. The latest plans would oblige companies to share data with users, other businesses and governments.

The executives said the plans “could do lasting damage to the competitiveness of some of Europe’s most successful companies employing millions of people. Furthermore, we believe it could pose serious risks to cyber security and safety.”

The letter, organised by business group DigitalEurope, is also addressed to Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner, Thierry Breton, who is responsible for implementing the bloc’s digital rules, and the Swedish presidency of the EU, which represents member states.

“The Internet of Things is an area where European companies are leading,” the executives said. “Companies have spent years investing in [research and development], developing data-powered products and services.

“By forcing data sharing, we are breaking the backbone of future data-driven European business models, with little guarantee of what comes next.”

Stefan Vilsmeier, chief executive of health technology group Brainlab, said the plans would force companies to reveal too much business information and “weaken Europe’s economy in competing with [others], especially China”.

Bernd Montag, chief executive of Siemens Healthineers, a medical devices company, said the proposal would override safety requirements for its products. “Both patients and healthcare professionals could be harmed if malicious entities were to tamper with the security, safety or quality of medical devices,” he said.

The letter comes as member states and legislators wrangle over “outstanding political issues”, according to a progress report on the plan by the Swedish presidency of the EU that was seen by the Financial Times.

These issues include: limits on the use of data from institutions such as the commission; excluding small businesses; whether some EU institutions should be exempted from the rules; and how to share data in emergencies.

Sweden hopes to reach a joint position among member states by June 27, the document says. For the draft law to be approved, they and the European parliament must agree on a final text.

Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl, director-general of DigitalEurope, urged for there to be a delay, saying “we seem to be hurtling through the legislative process like a runaway train”.

Industry groups have already issued a joint statement condemning the Data Act as a “leap into the unknown”. This month, the Global Data Alliance, a group of companies that promote high standards for data transfers, called on regulators to clarify ambiguities in the draft law.

In response to business concerns, Breton told the FT in February: “Every time I put new legislation in the digital sphere, [businesses] start to worry.” He said the Data Act would help build Europe’s “data market that we missed in the past”.

Other data rules imposed by the EU have also drawn the ire of companies.

The landmark Digital Markets Act, aimed at curbing the power of Big Tech, also places an emphasis on large players sharing data with smaller rivals. Companies such as Google and Amazon are in discussions with the commission on how to comply with the rules following intense lobbying to try to water them down. 

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