BRUSSELS AND WASHINGTON, D.C. – The European DIGITAL SME Alliance and the Coalition for App Fairness today announced their partnership to advocate for freedom of choice and fair competition across the app ecosystem.
“We are partnering up with a group of other industry players to bring attention to the unbalanced relationship between smaller app developers and the gatekeeper app stores” said Dr Oliver Grün, President of the European DIGITAL SME Alliance. “Like CAF, we believe every app developer, regardless of its size, is entitled to compete in a fair marketplace.”
“We are delighted to join forces with the European DIGITAL SME Alliance and to fight for better conditions for developers large and small together,” said Meghan DiMuzio, Executive Director of the Coalition for App Fairness. “This partnership will give greater voice to developers and consumers who are harmed by the anti-competitive policies of Apple and digital gatekeepers and strengthen our efforts to promote a fair marketplace for apps.”
In 2016, DIGITAL SME was recognized as an independent intervener in the Google Android antitrust case, representing small and medium IT enterprises, including app developers. In July 2018, Google was fined a record amount of €4.3 billion for having abused its dominant market position by requiring phone makers to pre-install the Google Search and the browser app Chrome as a condition for licensing Google’s Play store. Google also made payments to manufacturers and mobile network operators on the condition that they exclusively pre-install the Google Search app on their devices and prevented manufacturers wishing to pre-install Google apps from selling mobile devices running on alternative versions of Android.
In a similar vein, DIGITAL SME has been speaking out against the alleged unfair business practices in the Apple-Spotify case. Filed in March 2019, the antitrust complaint by Spotify alleged arbitrary restrictions and “taxes” imposed by Apple on competing third-party apps that are distributed via its App Store. The European Commission issued a Statement of Objections against Apple after a formal investigation in April this year. The Alliance welcomes the Commission’s investigation, which is a sign of growing awareness that Europe needs more fairness and balance in the digital environment.
SMEs are the backbone of the European economy and need a fair and competitive market to thrive. As the voice of over 45,000 digital SMEs across Europe, DIGITAL SME strongly supports efforts to reinstate integrity and fairness to the Digital Single Market. To learn more about DIGITAL SME and its work, visit digitalsme.eu.
By partnering with the Coalition for App Fairness, DIGITAL SME is broadening its efforts to fight anticompetitive app store practices on both major mobile platforms. DIGITAL SME is also preparing the launch of its SME Focus Group on Fairness, Ethical Tech, and Interoperability (FG FAIR).
DIGITAL SME FG FAIR Contact
About the Coalition for App Fairness
The Coalition for App Fairness is an independent non-profit organization formed to protect consumer choice, foster competition, and create a level playing field for all app and game developers globally. Originally formed by Basecamp, Blix, Blockchain.com, Deezer, Epic Games, the European Publishers Council, Match Group, News Media Europe, Prepear, Protonmail, Skydemon, Spotify, and Tile, CAF has rapidly grown from 13 to over 60 members since launching in September 2020. CAF offers membership to companies of any size — join today at appfairness.org.
The world’s most popular online platforms and the app stores that govern access to them have become a critical gateway to the consumers of digital products and services worldwide. While they can be beneficial when fairly operated, they can also be used by platform owners to hurt developers and consumers. As enforcers, regulators and legislators around the world seek to address these important issues, we urge them to recognize that every app developer, regardless of size or the nature of the developer’s business, is entitled to fair treatment by these app stores and the platform owners who operate them.
Obliging ‘gatekeepers’ in digital markets to play by a set of rules is crucial for Europe’s SME-based economy. App developers and competing small platforms will have more opportunities to grow and thrive if the new obligations for gatekeepers limit unfair practices and open up competition on ‘platforms’, including operating systems and app stores. Currently, a set of ‘gatekeeper’ tech giants control access to customers, and structure the digital environment by controlling the flow and access to information, e.g., in social media or via internet search. As an SME-based economy, Europe needs to ensure diversity in the digital environment and the Digital Markets Act can support that.
For further information on this position paper, please contact:
Ms. Annika Linck, EU Policy Manager
First published in 2020, the European Commission’s Industrial Strategy made the digitalisation of SMEs a key strategic objective. As Europe’s largest association of ICT small and medium enterprises, DIGITAL SME was glad to see SMEs take centre stage in the Commission’s plans for the future.
The strategy has now been updated to include more details on new industrial alliances in areas where there may be a need for public investment to accelerate activities and attract private investors. “We looked at strategic dependencies. We launched in-depth reviews, including in semiconductors and cloud,” said Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton, who is in charge of industrial policy, in an interview with POLITICO.
The updated strategy will focus on setting up “Important Projects of Common European Interest,” which can receive EU and national public funding. Some of these Important Projects are already up and running in areas such as microelectronics. The so-called Joint Undertakings (not referred to in the Industrial Strategy) will be another piece of the puzzle, setting up public-private partnerships in specific sectors like hydrogen. In addition, the new strategy will set up transition pathways to “offer a better bottom-up understanding of the scale, cost and conditions of the required action to accompany the twin transitions for the most relevant ecosystems”.
DIGITAL SME welcomes these updates but calls to ensure that the focus on SMEs is not diluted. Europe’s economy is based on SMEs, and innovative ICT companies play a key role in the transition to a green and digital economy. Therefore, initiatives such as Important Projects, transition pathways, and Joint Undertakings have to ensure a high degree of SME participation. In addition, DIGITAL SME calls for the establishment of an “Alliance for SME Digitalisation” in the form of a public-private partnership to provide targeted guidance for small and medium businesses in their digitalisation journey.
The European Commission has published a Proposal for a regulation on European data governance (Data Governance Act) at the end of 2020. The Data Governance Act is currently being debated in the European Parliament. With the Data Governance Act, the EU Commission wants to create a framework that will allow Europe to become a leading data economy, especially for industrial data. The Data Governance Act is part of a wider European Data Strategy, which will be complemented by a Data Act that will govern access to data in business-to-business (B2B) relationships.
The Data Governance Act sets the ground for re-use in particular of public sector data and the sharing of personal and non-personal data. Here, the proposal aims at lowering transaction costs linked to B2B and customer-to-business (C2B) data sharing by implementing a framework for data intermediaries. Further, it introduces and promotes the notion of “Data altruism”: allowing data use by individuals or companies for the common good. The Act also plans for the creation of an expert group, the ‘European Data Innovation Board’ which will work on best practices by Member States’ authorities. Among other tasks, this Board will advise the Commission on the governance of cross-sectoral standardisation.
Data is a key ingredient for many digital business models and innovation. It is the basis for AI models and technologies. SMEs can provide innovative solutions based on data if they have access to it. The European DIGITAL SME Alliance, therefore, welcomes the European Commission’s proposal to strengthen data sharing in the EU. You can read more about our position on the proposal here.
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The European Commission today has published its long-awaited proposal for an Artificial Intelligence Act, which will now be discussed in the Parliament and Council before becoming law. To mitigate public concerns about the use of unethical AI applications, the EC proposes to ban a number of AI applications which manipulate human behaviour or conduct social scoring. The bans concern “subliminal techniques beyond a person’s consciousness in order to materially distort a person’s behaviour in a manner that causes or is likely to cause that person or another person physical or psychological harm.” Notably, biometric identification will still be allowed for law enforcement purposes.
High-risk uses of AI like in employment or migration control will be admitted if the companies show that they comply with EU standards. For this purpose, companies will go through a self-assessment of conformity, while national authorities carry out regular compliance checks. In addition, the proposal includes creating “regulatory sandboxes” to allow smaller businesses to experiment and innovate with AI without fear of reproach. Stelian Brad, a member of DIGITAL SME’s Focus Group Artificial Intelligence, commented: “Our group of AI-using enterprises will continue to work with the Commission to ensure that AI regulation facilitates the uptake of artificial intelligence in SMEs. Ensuring AI adoption of smaller businesses is crucial for advancing innovation in Europe and working towards digital sovereignty”.
We look forward to discussing the proposed regulation and its potential consequences with the Focus Group and will continue working with the European Commission to make sure that the regulatory approach will address ethical issues with AI without encumbering SME innovation.
Earlier this week, Ursula Von der Leyen’s cabinet released a landmark document for Europe’s digital future: the “2030 Digital Compass”. The new strategy for digital transformation focuses on the key areas of digital skills, infrastructure, and the transformation of businesses and public services. A particular emphasis is placed on the role of small and medium businesses: “SMEs have a central role in this transition, not only because they represent the bulk of the EU companies, but also because they are a critical source of innovation,”, the Digital Compass reads. As a representative of innovative digital frontrunners, DIGITAL SME welcomes the recognition that Europe’s innovative ICT industry will have a key role to play to manage the transition.
The document puts forward ambitious goals for European businesses until 2030. Concrete KPIs will be defined in a stakeholder consultation planned to take place throughout 2021. However, the document already sets out a few key points:
Although Europe is home to many innovative companies and ideas, many of them do not manage to scale up. Linking the intention to support innovative companies to concrete goals can help to ensure that the “death valley” between research & development and market adoption will finally be successfully addressed. According to the “Digital Compass”, Europe is already bringing about as many start-ups as the US, but seems to lack a truly functioning single market for rapid growth and scaling up.
Another pillar of support to SMEs will be the network of more than 200 Digital Innovation Hubs and industrial clusters. “More than 200 European Digital Innovation Hubs and industrial clusters across the EU should support digital transformation of both innovative and non-digital SMEs, and connect digital suppliers to local ecosystems. The objective is to achieve a high level of digital intensity”, the document reads. DIGITAL SME welcomes this announcement. “We have long stressed the importance of local ecosystems and business partnerships to support the digital transformation. We are happy that the European Commission stresses their importance in this document,” said President Dr Oliver Grün.
As the Commission conducts a wider consultation process throughout the year to set up a “compass framework with specific targets and governance”, DIGITAL SME will be glad to contribute to the stakeholder forum and to provide feedback. Our input will focus on the monitoring system, milestones, and the means of achieving the Digital Compass’ ambitions. In our response to the 2030 Roadmap consultation, we stressed the importance of including long-term oriented criteria to measure Europe’s digital transformation.
If you are an innovative SME and would like to contribute to discussions about digital transformation in Europe, you can apply to join our Working Group Digitalisation. In this and other dedicated groups, DIGITAL SME’s members and trusted partners discuss and develop the Alliance’s position vis-á-vis the European institutions. They are also a place for networking and collaborating on European projects or other mutually beneficial initiatives like.
The workshop “AI-standardisation landscape & the role of Digital Innovation Hubs”, held on 18 February 2021, provided participants with an overview of Europe’s standardisation landscape in AI. A variety of actors are involved in standards-setting, and it can be difficult for SMEs to understand how they can keep up to date on standards development and get involved in the technical committees that set the standards. DIGITAL SME’s Focus Group on Artificial Intelligence brings together leading AI innovators in Europe, who will play a crucial role in supporting the uptake of AI-based technologies. In the new Digital Europe Programme, it will be the role of Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs) to help support the uptake of future technologies such as AI among SMEs. However, DIHs will also support technology frontrunners, such as AI innovators. Via DIHs, SME networks, and direct involvement in standardisation organisations, these innovative AI companies can shape AI development in Europe.
Rewatch the event:
The Rolling Plan for ICT Standardisation 2021. https://ec.europa.eu/docsroom/documents/44998
ETSI page on education about standards: www.etsi.org/standardization-education
A series of free webinars hosted by the University of Bath, on education and AI: https://cdt-art-ai.ac.uk/news/events/the-global-ai-standards-landscape-an-extended-seminar/
Funding regarding SDOs: https://www.standict.eu/
This workshop is part of DIGITAL SME’s efforts to promote AI as a key technology for the competitiveness of Europe’s digital economy. Although Europe is considered a global leader in AI academic research and champion of a human-centric approach to AI, it lags behind the US and China when it comes to the industrial applications of its scientific achievements. To stop Europe from falling behind, DIGITAL SME has taken a leadership role in AI for SMEs, gathering more than 100 AI innovators in the Focus Group on Artificial Intelligence (a joint effort with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre).
On 20 January 2021, DIGITAL SME held a live workshop titled “What does the new Data Governance Act mean for SMEs?” for members of the Focus Group on Artificial Intelligence (FG AI) and DIGITAL SME’s extended network. The event’s main topic was the Data Governance Act, a proposal for a regulation published by the European Commission last November.
While the workshop shed light on the European Commission’s strategy when it comes to data, important questions remain: What will the Data Governance Act (DGA) mean for small businesses on the ground? Access to data is a key hurdle for companies: How will the DGA and the Commission’s data strategy ensure this access?
The DGA aims to turn Europe into a leading data economy, especially for industrial data. For this purpose, the DGA wants to build a comprehensive European data-sharing framework. The DGA is part of a wider European Data Strategy, which will also include a Data Act, to be announced by the end of 2021. This framework aims to allow businesses and researchers to fully exploit data by lowering transaction costs linked to B2B and C2B data-sharing through data intermediaries. It provides a framework for the re-use of public sector data and promotes the concept of “data altruism”, i.e., allowing data use by individuals or companies for the common good. Finally, the DGA foresees the creation of an expert group, the ‘European Data Innovation Board’.
Malte Beyer-Katzenberger, Policy Officer at the European Commission’s DG CNECT, presented the DGA to an audience of AI-developing SMEs to better understand the EU’s overarching strategy for data. Participants were also able to ask questions about the proposal and bring their critical feedback to the attention of the European Commission.
Common European data spaces are infrastructures designed to materialise data-sharing platforms: their main leverage will be the possibility of reusing data. The DGA will define an open ecosystem independent from big players in which increased involvement creates more value. Mr Beyer-Katzenberger highlighted that “the European Commission will play the role of catalyser of the relevant actors in these data spaces”, but he added that they will be “driven by the stakeholders that are part of them”.
The DGA also introduces the notion of data intermediaries which will allow companies to recourse to third parties offering and obtaining data-related services. These intermediaries will strengthen businesses sovereignty over their own data as “they will share data while maintaining their control and value”, as Mr Beyer-Katzenberger explained. At the same time, questions remain when it comes to the additional bureaucracy associated with this notion – may it hinder smaller players from developing new business ideas based on the collection of data sets?
Finally, Mr Beyer-Katzenberger elaborated on the concept of “data altruism”, where individuals or companies can give consent to share their data for the common good; voluntarily and free of charge. This can lead to an increase in the amount of data at the disposal of companies who need data to scale up and innovate.
A poll conducted during the session indicated that only 60% of participants had heard of the Data Governance Act prior to the workshop. Towards the end of the session, the poll showed that the sentiment regarding the projected effects of the DGA on participants’ businesses was neutral to positive.
DIGITAL SME would like to thank Mr Beyer-Katzenberger for his presentation and all participants for sharing their feedback and questions. We will continue to bring together stakeholders to discuss digital legislation in the field of AI and beyond to make sure it is fit for SMEs.
The governance framework proposed by the DGA can have important consequences for innovative companies in AI or data intelligence services – and DIGITAL SME wants to ensure that the dialogue between the EU-level and the affected SMEs is established from the start.
Our Working Groups are the place-to-be to network and discuss policy and how it impacts your business—and you can join them! Go to digitalsme.eu/working-groups to learn more and apply.
Rewatch the event here:
DIGITAL SME Live Workshop
Discussion with the DIGITAL SME Focus Group on Artificial Intelligence (AI)
18 February 2021, 9.30 – 11.00 CET
|9.30 – 10.00||Welcome & Tour de Table|
|10.00 – 10.30||Overview of the AI standardisation landscape
Dr. Stefano Nativi, Big Data Lead Scientist at the European Commission DG Joint Research Centre
Lindsay Frost, Chief Standardisation Engineer at NEC Laboratories Europe and board member of ETSI
Prof. Stelian Brad, Professor Technical University of Cluj-Napoca & President of the Cluj IT Cluster
|10.30 – 10.55||Discussion with the SME Focus Group on AI
Moderated by DIGITAL SME
|10.55 – 11.00||Closing & next steps|