Data Economy with TANGO: Harvest Together, Sow More
From factories to supermarkets to medicines, data has a price. It is when companies share data with others that the greatest economic impact can be expected. Why the Digital Single Market goes against established principles of competition. And how the TANGO project is technologically balancing the interests of citizens.
Whether online or offline, with a smartphone or a shopping basket – wherever customers shop, data also has its own price. Those who collect loyalty points, for example, not only share their own shopping basket data for rewards, vouchers and discounts, but also reveal their shopping habits. How often do we buy shower gel? Which brands do we prefer? And how much are we willing to spend? Correlations like these pay off for retailers in other ways, too: For example, how barbeque sausages and ketchup make the tills ring when the sun comes out or when algorithms calculate product suggestions based on past orders. Or when women reach for body lotions, chocolate and nutritional supplements when they are pregnant – as early as the beginning of the 2000s, the US retailer Target succeeded in using data to identify expectant mothers based on 25 typical products.
550 billion Euro: Value of the EU data economy in 2025
From planning product ranges, to exploring cross- and upselling potential, and even managing relationships with female customers entering a new phase in their life – data plays a key role in more than just retail. It sets economic wheels in motion everywhere. According to calculations by the European Union (EU), the value of the data economy is expected to grow from €325 billion in 2019 to more than €550 billion by 2025, equivalent to 4% of the gross domestic product of all Member States.
What will it take for the Digital Single Market to flourish on the continent: On the one hand, the right set of rules to process data in a sovereign and protected manner. And on the other hand, the appropriate infrastructure to make economic use of data on an industrial scale, based on European values and standards. After all: “Data is the lifeblood of the economy and a driver of innovation”, writes the EU Commission online.
TANGO pilot projects explore opportunities of the data economy
Regulatory framework and infrastructure for economic innovation – this is exactly what initiatives such as Gaia-X and the International Data Spaces Association are providing a technological and GDPR-compliant framework for. The data-based applications that the TANGO project is now developing are also converging on this framework. Whether for factories, hospitals, cars, banks or even retailers – 34 partners from 13 countries are working together in five pilot projects under the title “Digital Technologies ActiNg as a Gatekeeper to information and data flOws”, or TANGO for short. Since September 2022, the consortium has been exploring opportunities in the data economy. The aim is to create a platform for managing data in a transparent, secure, fair and environmentally sustainable way based on a citizen-centred and trustworthy approach.
TANGO balances interests technologically
Increasing sales, improving service and optimising the customer shopping experience based on data – TANGO, for example, is looking for technological ways to balance the interests of retailers and customers alike. From product range data to goods data to personal data – information should always be able to be exchanged in a protected and self-determined manner. This allows consumers to remain in control over their addresses, body measurements and brand preferences while enabling supermarkets, online shops and e-commerce providers to tailor the shopping experience more and more to their target groups – whether personal advice in the shop or custom-made sneakers including an algorithmic size suggestion when buying shoes online. TANGO, for example, relies on explainable artificial intelligence (AI). Explainable Artificial Intelligence, XAI for short, makes machine decisions transparent and comprehensible. As does Federated Learning: Instead of data, companies exchange AI models with TANGO that have been only trained using only their own data.
Sharing data across the board and setting economic wheels in motion
Use data in a transparent, understandable and, above all, collaborative way, rather than in silos and monopolies: According to the EU, the greatest economic impact can be expected when companies share their information with others in a decentralised and distributed way - across all sectors. “The smart use of data can have a transformative effect on all sectors of the economy and can create new opportunities for economic growth, including for small and medium-sized enterprises,” writes the EU Commission on its website.
Those who share data make life and work more sustainable, do more with less and pave the way for medical advances. Take osteoporosis, for example: AI can be used to calculate how likely an individual is to develop osteoporosis from any CT scan of their bones. If detected early, vitamin D and calcium could save billions in treatment costs across Europe.
Benefiting collectively and managing cooperatively
Sharing as a basis, not only to save costs, but also to make a profit? The cooperative business models of the data economy run counter to the established principles of competition. Nonetheless, a model from the London Mathematical Laboratory shows that they can work. The idea of “cooperation plus” goes back to the farmers fable. This describes how farmers benefit collectively when they manage their crops cooperatively, rather than just for themselves. The fable shows: If everyone can sow more, the yield increases for everyone. The same applies to the data economy: The power of many creates greater leverage for the common good than the power of one.
Self-determined and sovereign data exchange
Collective self-interest – Decentralised and distributed architectures are the maxim of cooperative approaches. Approaches like those being tested by the TANGO pilot projects. And architectures like those provided by Gaia-X: The open and standardised infrastructure does not make individuals winners, but rather everyone who contributes – from companies who want to provide and use data, to providers who want to monetise trained models as AI services, to citizens who can decide for themselves which data they disclose and for what purpose – and for what purpose they do not: regardless of whether it is an AI-based article recommendation in e-commerce or a pregnancy forecast in the supermarket.
TANGO is part of Horizon Europe, the European Union’s largest research and innovation programme to date, worth €95.5 billion. The project, led by ATOS Spain, will run until September 2025. The eco – Association of the Internet Industry is part of the consortium.