The digital arms race has already begun. Countries worldwide are actively investing to ensure that their industries are able to compete successfully on a global basis. This concerns high technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, or cloud technologies as in this day and age computing power is equivalent to political and economic power.
What is the objective of a European Cloud solution? Production in the 21st century depends on data, computing power and IT know-how being competitive. For instance, improved computing power means that a company is able to modify a corrupt process within a few hours, whilst another business needs two weeks. This requires memory, powerful processors and fast data lines.
Providing this infrastructure has now become a governmental task: almost all industrial countries have already started this process. The EU too has now taken some active industrial policy steps towards ”Europe’s digital sovereignty”, among them the Cloud project GAIA-X.
A “Cloud” is a so-called server farm, where huge data quantities can be stored. The market for Cloud providers is extremely concentrated: currently Amazon’s Cloud AWS (“Amazon Web Services”) has captured a third of the market. Anybody hosting data on Amazon has to accept that it will be “locked- in”. However, digital sovereignty requires not to be dependent on American or Chinese providers.
Thus, the EU wants to use the GAIA-X project to develop a Cloud infrastructure “in line with European values” for domestic enterprises and administration. Data protection is of particular importance together with simultaneous “interoperability”. This means that data must not be locked-in and that interfaces between providers are made possible.
However, it is mainly companies that are benefiting from European values. The GAIA-X project is deeply German-French oriented and very industry-driven. Among the founding members are, besides BMW, Bosch, Fraunhofer, SAP or Siemens, and now also US-American internet giants such as Amazon or Google. Particularly controversial is the entry of the “Big Data” giant Palantir, regarded as the “key company of the surveillance industry”.
Yet, labour representatives as well as consumer or data protection organisations are not at all involved in the project. Accordingly, the advantages of the “European Cloud variant“ do not apply to them; their data can still be gathered by companies without hindrance and turned into money.
However, Cloud technology as infrastructure is also key for employees and consumers. Hence, it is a matter of urgency to bring it under democratic control. Besides social consequences such as surveillance and control or algorithmic discrimination, the development of Clouds and computer-intensive technologies also has drastic consequences for the environment.
Progressive industrial policy has to be more than pure enterprise promotion. It must also act in response to social and environmental issues. There is still time to genuinely involve labour or consumer representations and civil organisations such as data protection NGOs in industrial policy decisions.
A&W-Blog: Industrial policy und digital Infrastructures (German only)
A&W-Blog: EU Industrial policy (German only)
nd aktuell: Gaia-X: Data protection for capital (German only)