Should your data have a passport?

Author: James Kinsella
17 June 2015 16:30:39

Throughout the brief history of our digital world, humans have created about 4.4 Zettabytes of content, most of that (about 80%) generated by citizens of the EU and the US. That’s 4.3 Terabytes for every EU and US citizen. (View the Infographic for all the data used in this blog.) 

Most of that data – both European and American – sits on servers controlled by US companies. In many cases, those companies share your content for marketing purposes – either to sell you more product or to use your content to place adverts in. There’s nothing secret about this; you actually agree to it in the terms you accept when you start using these services.

Sometimes, even when you’re paying a European provider to keep your data secure, that provider in turn is storing your data on a US company’s servers.

This state of digital affairs should be known as “the US/EU cloud imbalance”.

But, does it really matter? Does your data matter to you?

It’s a legitimate question. Do you really care that your favourite cat photos are sitting on a set of servers on the East Coast of the USA? I’m not a cat lover, but I’m guessing even cat lovers don’t care that much where those photos sit. 

Now, if you’re a business, and your customers are entrusting you with some part of their digital life, the question takes on a whole other level of urgency.

Suddenly, where your data roams, who accesses it and what control you have over it really does matter.

Indeed, Data Protection for companies and consumers is increasingly a question of good governance and sovereignty. Every company – no matter where they do business – should be aware that where their data sits DOES matter, for two primary reasons:

1. Data everywhere in the world is subject to laws of the respective governments. Outside the EU, neither European companies nor European citizens can guarantee that they will have any influence over foreign governments and how they handle European data.

By contrast, the European Union continues to develop laws concerning data that protect individuals and companies better than anyplace else in the world. The European Charter of Fundamental Rights sets out the basis for data protection in Europe. (See our Infographic for more on these rights.)

2. Companies and consumers who use “FREE” or “nearly free” services – and American companies dominate this industry – also often agree to allow their data to be used as a marketing tool or as a direct means for these services to make money (Read my previous blog on this matter). In effect, these services need your data so they, in turn, can make money from marketing content or marketing usage details of individual customers. And yet, this business model treads on one of the freedoms established by the European Charter of Fundamental Rights: “Everyone has the right to the protection of personal data concerning him or her.”

Europeans – both businesses and consumers – should wake up to the fact that they are handing over their cloud future to governments they did not elect and to companies that are very often not subject to European standards of data protection. Relying on a European provider is crucial for European companies. And it is critical to addressing the CLOUD IMBALANCE that currently exists between the US and the EU.

All the data above is included in the Infographic, “Where’s your data?” 

Related articles:

Where is your data actually stored? - By Pedro Vasconcelos

The implications for storage of EU data protection regulation. - Featured in, by Mathieu Gorge

James Kinsella is the founder of Zettabox, a European-based cloud-sharing platform, launched to address data protection and sovereignty issues for enterprises faced with the responsibility to comply with new EU regulations. A long-time tech entrepreneur, James is a proud citizen of both the US and Great Britain. Reach him on Twitter @jimkzettabox or at