Present barriers to greater data sharing


The ubiquity of IoT (the Internet of Things), smart sensors, and mobile phones coupled with the ‘velocity and verbosity’ of the collected data mean that the volume of data being generated and subsequently collected will be more significant than ever before years to come. The amount of data generated by connected devices will increase as the number of connected devices increases.

This data has huge economic value, estimated at €15 billion in the UK alone in 2025. Its total impact and potential could be around three times larger when including indirect and wider benefits.

The benefits arising from the use and re-use of open data include facilitating efficiencies by allowing people to make more informed decisions, better competition, innovation, resilience, and better networks, which can generate jobs, support exports, and reduce harmful emissions. These benefits are likely to be significant, reaching across the economy and affecting consumers and organizations alike.

However, open data sharing will face many potential barriers relating to privacy, security, etc.

Privacy and legal barriers

Privacy and legal barriers around the sharing, storage, and use of personal data have been cited as a key reason why organizations are unable or reluctant to share the data they hold with others. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which regulates the handling (or processing) of any form of personal data and strengthens requirements around consent, appears to have a material impact on data sharing in so many sectors, where personal data is increasingly collected from smartphones and IoT devices.

The rules aren’t intended to limit data use for good reasons. Yet, there are genuine risks when consumers opt to share personal data collected via IoT devices, payments and consumption data, and geospatial tracking. Consumers have a general aversion to any non-essential data sharing with businesses, owing to a lack of trust and understanding of data uses and potential benefits. Legal issues appear to be more likely to arise in data sharing nowadays.

Security barriers

Security barriers refer to concerns about data sharing leading to security breaches, data losses, and, in extreme cases, high-impact cyber-attacks. As data sharing grows and new technologies drive more interconnected ecosystems, the range of potential threats, vulnerabilities, and system resilience issues is reported to be expanding.

Organizations’ security fears are heightened further by large potential fines under GDPR and Network and Information Systems (NIS) Directive rules. However, the reputational and commercial repercussions of a breach could be greater. These fears are thought to be discouraging greater data sharing, especially in instances where the benefits case is uncertain or not fully understood.

As a result, any measures to encourage data sharing should ensure that organizations have the tools and incentives to pursue adequate security solutions to reduce these risks. It involves setting clear standards around minimum requirements (for example, regarding firewalls, intrusion detection systems, encryption, and access authorization) and promoting a collaborative and coordinated approach across organizations and sectors instead of fragmented or ad hoc approaches that increase the risk of potential security lapses.

Commercial barriers

Commercial barriers refer to data not being shared because the costs of sharing are greater than the expected benefits. A possible indirect cost of sharing data, in addition to direct costs, could be a perceived loss of competitive advantage. On the other hand, sharing data may incur financial costs if IT systems and data management practices are not properly configured. Where data sharing and collaborative approaches are not the norms, commercial barriers are higher. There could be a ‘free rider’ problem if data shared by one company is used by others who do not reciprocate by sharing their own information.

Cultural barriers

Cultural barriers refer to policies, habits, and attitudes within organizations that oppose data sharing. These exist in both the private and public sectors and can reflect a lack of understanding and focus on the potential data benefits and new technologies, as well as trust issues and a belief that data should only be shared with those who “need to know.”

Several large infrastructure players appear to have ingrained this organizational culture, making them slow to adapt to new trends. Cultural barriers are likely to exacerbate other barriers where they exist. Organizations may fail to see the commercial benefits of data sharing and may be overly concerned about privacy and security concerns.

Technical barriers

Technical barriers refer to technical challenges in sharing data, such as data not being in the right format due to a lack of common standards, data being stored only in legacy systems that are not designed for sharing, or data not being digitized at all. Non-standardized datasets with data quality issues restrict interoperability.

For instance, in the energy sector, there do not yet seem to be agreed standards for smart meter data provided to customers in machine-readable format upon request (as per GDPR rules). Customers may choose to share this information with other suppliers or third parties, but a lack of standardization may make this impossible. These issues are currently well-recognized, and there are several initiatives to provide common data standards. In many cases, efforts to establish common data standards are still ongoing.

To sum up, we need to achieve a balance between tacking cultural, commercial, and technical barriers to realize the benefits of data sharing. Balanced measures can yield significant efficiency savings, enhanced competition, innovations in products and services, and greater system-wide resilience and capacity.