Europe's digitalization - From online shopping to remote working | DW Documentary
It's hard for me to explain to a German the beauty of digitisation because they haven't experienced the benefits it brings. I find it absolutely crucial. Digitisation happens. It will continue, but it's now that, as democracies, we can say, we are going to set the direction. The companies are closed, you don't know who is in charge. We are not slaves, we are workers.
Europe is sandwiched between the US and China, and needs to free itself if it wants to avoid becoming a digital colony. Our lifestyles are rapidly changing. Friends, work, business transactions — all walks of life are permeated by digital transformation.
And since the Covid pandemic, this process has accelerated. The digital economy is growing seven times as quickly as the rest of the economy. It is our future — like it or not. There are real opportunities, but the dangers should not be underestimated. So far Europe has not produced any big IT enterprise of its own. The question now is: Can we catch up and finally take our digital future into our own hands? After a separation, I decided to give it a go. Suddenly you’re confronted with all kinds of questions.
What do I reveal? How do I present myself? What impression do I want to convey? It was so difficult to put together this profile. The city was pretty new to me and I wanted to get to know new people. But I’m not the kind to walk up to a stranger in a bar and say Hi there. How’s it going? I’d come through a difficult separation. My friends told me I should get back to living my life.
Click, swipe, type — we love our Smartphone apps. And they are increasingly shaping our daily lives. Dating platforms are extremely popular. Every tenth European uses at least one. With Julia I felt something even at the messaging stage, and that was just confirmed when we met in person. There was a connection there right away. I think I liked the way you wrote and answered. It was pretty light and easy.
It was hours of work. I don’t think we would have met without the app. How did you decide to leave the app after you met? We decided that we would be exclusive and at one point, I think one evening, we just said, we haven't used it for, like, a month or something, so let's just delete it. And that was the end of it. Ok.
But we took screenshots of our conversations. True, yeah. Because if you delete it, it's probably somewhere on a server but you don't have access to it. And so, yeah, we decided to do screenshots of all the messages we had sent each other before we met physically.
It's kind of our history. Are you aware of your personal data rights? Absolutely not on my side. No, not at all. And you? Absolutely not. And you? I don't know either.
Because one aspect is that you can request your data from a platform like Tinder or OKCupid. Even if you deleted the app? Even if you deleted it, they save it for some time. In terms of data protection there are several problems with dating apps.
For instance none or very few of these apps verify a person’s identity. We’re basically revealing ourselves to strangers, and giving them personal, sensitive data without knowing who is actually on the other end. I have already had an experience where one of the photos I've shared with someone has recycled back to me through somebody else.
And I've said to someone, That's actually a photo of me, but, like, I'm not identifiable, but I knew I took the photo. So I think privacy is a huge issue. My safety rule is that I keep my face kind of separate from my sexually explicit material just in case someone decided to put it on a blog and then you're out there forever. Dating apps have become ideal sites to collect the kind of personal information that can’t be found elsewhere, including details like HIV status and sexual orientation.
This information is sold to third parties and we can no longer see where such data is stored and what happens to it. Dates, food orders, work-transactions — data is the fuel that feeds the digital transport network. Nothing works without it. So what happens with all this data? It doesn’t just fly through the air.
But it does speed through underwater cables. 450 cables in total run along the ocean floors. Digital highways connect Europe with the US especially, but also with the rest of the world. All our likes, posts, and online purchases are transmitted through digital highways like these. They are distributed at Internet hubs and stored in thousands of data centres like this one.
Our simple swipes and taps are enabled by a gigantic behind-the-scenes infrastructure. When you hear internet you tend to think of one big network, but in reality there are 55000 individual networks. That’s why internet exchange points, as they’re known, have been incorporated into the concept of the internet — to link up the networks at the various centres. One of the biggest internet exchange points in Europe, DE-CIX, is located in Frankfurt am Main — in one of these top security computing centers. We don’t have a computer, we have switches.
Switches arbitrate traffic exchange between different networks. The process is fully automated, of course, and takes place at breakneck speed. These days, you have to think of these exchange points as international — the traffic is international.
And if someone from Italy wants to send an e-mail to Russia, he will probably send it from Italy to DE-CIX, and a Russian provider will pick it up at DE-CIX and deliver it to Vladivostok or wherever. An incredible network, a work in constant progress, it’s the basis for all our activities in the digital world. But Europe has a problem. Most of the data is stored and processed by tech corporations from the US.
And transparency is not their middle name. Cloud storage is inaccessible. We don't know what happens to the collected information. When you enter data on a website, you relinquish control over it.
Enterprises can do pretty much what they want with it. It's not uncommon for them to create virtual profiles of us. What we do, consume, think. And we’re not being screened just for fun.
The goal is to predict and influence our decisions, even our political opinions. So-called micro-targeting is routine. Tech companies do everything they can to make us feel at home on the Internet. But actually, behind the scenes it’s still the Wild West, and the law of the strongest prevails. At times this can have extremely destabilizing effects.
I’ll never forget one of the first articles that worked. It got a huge number of shares and likes. It was on the lines of... Amazing. This plant can cure everything, confirmed by doctors, something like that. In 24 hours I made 4500?.
I thought, well I can do this for the rest of my life. The business of misinformation has long taken root in Europe. Most click baiters are located in the Western Balkans, especially in North Macedonia. Lacking better job prospects, young, qualified web designers earn a living by faking web content.
As soon as this is clicked on, money flows. Fake news is a lucrative business. Half an hour of work per day is equivalent to ten North Macedonian average salaries. There is an interesting story about this. It started as a joke. We wrote an article about Obama's daughter being hit by a car. The article went viral.
And that’s when we realized we could do more than publish completely unverified news about health and beauty. So we started selling ad time on our pages. And we stopped checking what the posts were about. If you paid for the slot, we shared the post. The US market was where the Macedonian clickbaiters made their big money.
With fake news on Facebook and Google they share responsiblity for a historic turning point. The 2016 US election. The rhetoric of these posts was mainly pro Republican. Why is that a problem? By sharing this content with a large audience, we indirectly influenced the outcome of the 2016 election when Trump was elected President of the United States of America. Google and Facebook were under a lot of pressure. Especially from the American government. They knew about the propaganda on social media, but they didn't stop us at the time.
It's funny, they should have just pulled the plug. It took them almost seven months after Trump was elected president to shut down all our pages and advertising accounts and so on. In a small Eastern European town a group of young men influenced the United States election — this is Veles, infamously known as the fake news capital of the world. And we now know it wasn’t just the US election that was undermined by fake news. Brexit and the 2017 presidential election in France were also affected. So far, state institutions have found it pretty much impossible to take action against it.
Corporations like Facebook act like independent states following only their own internal regulations. There are numerous social media platforms, but the global supremacy of Facebook, now Meta, is overwhelming. Giant corporate bulldozers are also found in eCommerce. Basically, the giants reign supreme in almost all digital areas. A few US corporations have built the digital infrastructure of the 21st century and dominate it.
So should we in Europe simply resign ourselves to eternal dependence on these corporations, or can we find alternatives? The commission has decided to fine Google 2.4 billion euros. And the European Union has hit Google with a record fine equal to 5 billion dollars. 2015. An important step on the road to independence.
The EU declared war on the monopolies of individual tech-giants, the first public institution in the world to do so. Apple must recover up to 13 billion euros in unpaid taxes. The EU has set out to curb the dominance of individual market players, to give citizens more control over their own data and to hold social media accountable for publishing fake or harmful content. What is happening right now is that democracy takes back control of the essentials. For a very long time,
really essential decisions have been taken in closed boardrooms and not in our democracy. And that is not to exclude the commercial side of technology, but that is to say that it's 100% legitimate, that it is our elected representatives who set the direction in our societies. It’s hard to imagine the huge tech-corporations backing down. They have a powerful lobby that spends 100 million euro annually to influence political decisions to their advantage; a large part of this sum comes from the US. The EU is currently working on 2 groundbreaking legislative packages.
Once passed, it will be possible to combat fake news and illegal content more effectively. And companies will have to be more transparent about their internal algorithm. But that’s not all. We are now in the process of a piece of legislation called the Digital Markets Act that will oblige those who hold significant market power to some degree to hold back. Right now, we have an Amazon case which is exactly on this. That you're a small merchant on Amazon Marketplace, it's really difficult to get your own data, to get to know what your customers like, but Amazon Retail, they get all your data — know what you sell and what you don't sell so that they can compete against you.
So that kind of seemingly quite simple things, that you can get your own data, should be a positive result of what we're doing right now. But are fines and regulations enough? How does Europe compare to the rest of the world in relation to tech companies and infrastructure? Not well at all. 75 percent of the capital value of all data-platform companies lies in American hands. China can claim 20 percent, while Europe’s share is a mere 4 percent. That's a serious problem.
So why hasn't Europe produced anything comparable to Google or Microsoft? I think the reason why Europe has not fostered these giant companies was mistakes that we made maybe a decade ago. Because if you want to scale a company, you need a big market. And if you want to scale a company you need a lot of risk-willing capital. And neither of those two things were provided ten years ago in Europe. Where in the US, you would have a very unified digital single market, two languages, English American and Spanish and you would have a capital market, where capital would come with competence. But Europe is beginning to gain ground.
There is a lot of investment in the start-up sector, especially from the European Investment Bank. Stockholm could serve as a model. The Swedish capital has a successful startup and investor scene. This is mainly due to Spotify, the music platform founded here.
Sophia Benz was part of the core Spotify team when the company was launched. Back at the time when I joined Spotify, how we got to meet interesting people was that we hosted Friday beers at our office. That, I think, was the embryo of the Stockholm tech scene at that time, for us at least. But no conferences and no meet-ups and no co-working spaces and no accelerators and no hubs. Today Sophia Benz works for Cherry Ventures, a venture capital fund.
As a VC, you are on the lookout for the next big tech company. The fund I work for, we invest primarily in European start-ups. When you work at a tech start-up and you want to launch in Europe, of course it's a bit of a challenge because it's very different depending on if you're rolling out a product in Spain or in Germany or in Norway. So, for me, my eight years at Spotify,
we were launching in a number of markets. We learned a lot and I felt like after having launched in the European markets, we had gained so much insights and lessons learned that the US launch was, of course, a big chunk of work and not easy, but we were better equipped to do it, because we had launched in Europe before. When I joined Spotify, I was 25, and I didn't have anyone to bounce ideas with and I didn't have someone around that had done a similar journey and I wish that I would have had that.
So I'm passionate about giving that to the founders that I invest in. With Spotify, I think one of the key reasons why Spotify became so big, is because of the founders. They were determined to build a big company and not sell too early.
And I'm really impressed with how they have been so keen to really make it a massive company coming from Europe. The effect that has on the ecosystem in general is incredibly inspiring. There's a lot of companies being started every second.
It feels like in every second basement there's a new founder creating a new company. I think that sets the scene and it shows by example that it can be done, so there's no excuse. Today, 20 times more money is invested in European startups than twelve years ago, but it’s still a pittance in comparison to funding in the US. And funding is only one of the challenges. If Europe wants to be more digitally independent, it needs to solve another problem. Microchips. Nothing works without them.
But only 10 percent of microchips are manufactured in Europe. The bulk is imported from Asia. Here’s where history takes an interesting turn. This is where the socialist government of the GDR produced their first microchips and this is where Europe might actually catch up: Dresden.
In 1961, that’s just over 60 years ago, a microelectronics institute was set up here, so you have a technical university working in the field. And that spurred the development of numerous industries, even after the political changes. And clever economic policy in the region has ensured the survival and the further development of this know-how. Dresden is now the largest microelectronics centre in Europe and that includes the entire ecosystem needed for a high-tech industry like microelectronics.
It’s our Silicon Saxony, like Silicon Valley in California. That amounts to about 70000 jobs in the Dresden area in the broad microelectronic sector. The potential is immense. The digital transformation poses gigantic challenges to the European economy. Production processes are increasingly digitalised and interconnected. This means secure data exchange is paramount. But currently it’s far from acceptable. European industry has taken action.
Francesco Bonfiglio’s goal is visionary. He is the managing director of Gaia X, one of the most daring projects in digital infrastructures. He’s planning to build a European infrastructure that will enable secure exchanges between diverse industries and producers.
324 of the continent’s most important enterprises are already on board, as are 14 national centres. We’re currently designing software to connect existing computers, data centres and clouds. The software will run on the infrastructure that’s already present. Our rules will identify those wishing to gain access to the data.
So we move from relinquishing control of our data to others, to controlling our own data. To understand what secure data exchange could mean for us in the future, let’s take an example from the tourist industry. Think of a person travelling through different countries using different means of transport. In the future one single payment, one check-in, one ID check will suffice for the entire journey. The travel agencies, airline companies and border controls will all be using a common platform. At the beginning of the journey, however, the traveller will have to consent to access to their data.
Gaia X, for their part, will guarantee secure data exchange with their blockchain technology. Every single access and every alteration will be transparent. Europe's economy is still not in the same league as the US and China in relation to digitalisation. According to EU estimates, Europe would have to invest 1250 billion euros over the next decade to be competitive. But at least with its Reconstruction Fund the EU has covered a tenth of that amount.
Some regions, however, have far outstripped the rest of the continent. Estonia has driven digitization like no other country in the world. Taavi Kotka worked for the Estonian government for five years as its chief digitisation officer. But he is also a private IT entrepreneur. This combination of private and public involvement is typical for Estonia. Definitely, I like to do big stuff. That's the reason why I became a CEO. If you are a high officer in government, the influence you have on society is way bigger than any CEO of... I don't know.
Deutsche Telekom or like in a large bank or something. If I think of how much money I brought from the EU to the Estonian ICT sector or what changes we had without e-residency and things like that, it wasn't a one-man show. It was always teamwork, but it was a big effort. Estonia’s health care system is one of the most impressive examples of digital transformation. All hospitals, doctors and laboratories are networked together. The communication within the Estonian medical system is very useful. Early access to this information enables us to treat patients better.
A good example is the ambulance service. We have an e-ambulance. This means that the ambulance no longer uses paper, but an iPad. If we already have the patient's ID code, we can see their previous medical reports even before the ambulance reaches the patient. We can see medical histories, prescriptions, immunization status. The hospital is immediately informed about the arriving patients and can prepare in advance.
This of course raises the question of data protection. How can the individual maintain control of their sensitive data? The Estonian health care system has clear and consistent guidelines. This is my healthcare data log.
Here I can see the names of all the doctors and nurses who have accessed my data. If I see an unknown name, I can file a complaint and ask why that person was checking my data? If there is no good explanation, that person goes to jail. It's as simple as that. This ensures transparency and gives you confidence that your data is safe in the hands of the nurses and doctors. The fear of digitisation and relinquishing control of your personal information is not justified. So why does Estonia have such a headstart in the digital realm? The reasons are historical, but also geographical.
Every big change brings its own problems. Estonia's problem was that we had to build our own economy when the country was liberated from the Soviet Union. We didn't want to be like the Soviet Union. But the disadvantage of Estonia is that although we’re relatively large — we’re bigger than Switzerland or Denmark — our population is small.
We have a lot of small towns and villages where it is very difficult to provide certain services effectively, such as banking and government services. That was our problem. We realized that we needed to get people using the internet and digital tools. Estonia has the most Unicorns in relation to population in Europe. Unicorns are start ups with a market value of at least one billion dollars.
E-Estonia has become the catchphrase for the country's digital economy. All services are provided online, be that health, education, or finance. Everything. Estonia cannot go back to paper.
The systems just don't work like that anymore. It's why we have data embassies outside our country. If a massive cyber attack or something similar happens, we can reboot our country from outside our borders. Taavi Kotka is speaking from experience.
In 2007, Estonia was the victim of the first politically motivated Russian cyberattack. Not only did the country defend itself valiantly, it emerged from the conflict even stronger. Today, the NATO Cyber Security Center is located in Tallinn.
Units from all NATO countries are trained here. Driven by an optimistic vision of a thoroughly digitised society, the government went one step further. E-residency is like digital citizenship. You can start a business, run it, or wind it down. Today we have about 90T thousand e-citizens.
We have managed to open up our economy to a lot of people. This is just the beginning. We are all in the process of exploring this new digital world.
Estonia exemplifies how digitization processes can succeed. Private and public initiatives overlap with mutual benefit. Similarly-styled projects can be found across the continent and look very promising. Our digital democracy has never been a Facebook democracy. Click here and democracy will work.
A radical, forward-looking project has been launched by the city of Barcelona. It’s banking on the digital realm to strengthen democracy through citizen participation. Our idea of digital democracy was a cross between physical spaces such as urban neighbourhoods and a digital democracy that safeguards people's rights and privacy and, most importantly, enables them to exert power over public decisions. Italian Francesca Bria has long been committed to grassroots democratic platforms. Six years ago, she started as the municipality's first information officer. Our biggest experiment was in democratic participation.
For this we created a platform called Decidim Barcelona. Decidim is a digital platform for citizen participation. It is designed to enable you to participate digitally, but also to inform you of all the offline events. In the last four years, participation processes of all kinds have been created, mobility concepts, urban planning, design of public spaces. This first large-scale experiment enabled us to discover the true priorities of the city at the grassroots level.
Housing as a basic right for all, the development of a new urban construction model called Superilla. Citizens participating in Decidim were crucial in realizing Surperilla. A mobility plan was developed and 120 junctions were identified in the city.
Entire streets and intersections were designated traffic-free and converted into green public spaces for the residents. That’s what digital citizen participation can look like. A showcase model. In the past four years 40000 people have participated in strategic planning across the city. About 70% of citizens’ proposals were accepted. These proposals are examined, and there is always a follow up process.
In this way Decidim has already had a big impact on city policy. After we’d developed Decidim here in Barcelona, it was introduced in Helsinki, in Iceland, Madrid, Turin, Milan and Rome. At the moment 80 cities across the world are using it.
It has almost become a European platform for democratic participation. It was driving through rural Ireland, and seeing towns that were visibly deteriorating and main streets just looking like there was no life in them. And thinking, how do you solve a problem like that? Long before the Covid pandemic, a civic movement in Ireland was attempting to halt the decline of rural regions.
The plan was to motivate people to work remotely, from home. Tracy Keogh is founder of Grow Remote. Grow Remote is a community development organisation and we make remote workboth visible and accessible.
There are no jobs here is a defeatist attitude and what we should be saying is, there are jobs everywhere and I'm here. Grow remote connects the job seekers to the jobs. It also offers training in remote working skills.
By remote work, we mean location-agnostic employment, so not freelancing, entrepreneurship, digital nomads, just employment. Mike, how's it going? Hi. How are things? How are you? You got a new job? Congratulations! Yeah, thank you. Yeah, I moved up into a senior engineer now. Amazing. That's brilliant.
Yeah, so pretty happy about that. I'd never ever thought that remote work could be something that I'd be able to do. So, yeah, I just decided to apply on spec and then there it was. You have the fact that there are 55000 jobs open today in any community across Europe that could land there, if only people knew about them. Well, we do have a lot of people as well that are from around here that would be perfect for remote jobs like mine.
There's no reason that other people can't do exactly what I'm doing. You don't have to go to a big city just to get a good job, you can have one wherever you happen to be. Yeah, that's the plan.
Grow Remote aims to support people within their own region and help them to take their futures in their own hands with regular work contracts. Many digital workers can only dream of such conditions. 28 million people work for internet platforms across Europe, and by 2025 there will be 15 million more. Most of these jobs are precarious. Food deliveries for instance.
The couriers are registered as self-employed and part-time. They have practically no rights or job-security. We have no insurance. We are not covered. And there is no contract. So basically, you cannot rent a home.
Day labourers with no rights deliver food orders to the doorstop. The toleration of such abuses doesn’t reflect well on the European welfare states. The companies are closed, you don't know who is in charge. You don't know who is managing them.
When you have problems, you don't know who to go to. Osa Eromosele fled from Nigeria. He has lived in Italy for six years and is still waiting for a permanent residency permit. He is one of 60000 bicycle couriers in Italy. A friend of mine, Angelo, he gave me a flyer about organising for this movement called Rights for Riders. And I was so interested because nobody was talking about that.
We didn't have anybody representing us in a national level. And we did our first manifestation. We need to be called workers, not just riders. So we decided to use that point, that moment to send them a message that we are not slaves, we are workers, we deserve some rights.
We made a movement and we are so glad that all the Italians came and supported us and we won. For now, it's just Just Eat that decided to give permanent contracts. It's the beginning. This is not all we want. I'm one of the lucky ones that got the permanent contract. But we are also fighting for the rights of others, not just me. Couriers across Europe are protesting.
They demand recognition as regular workers. It is clear that for many the digital transformation is not a positive development, but rather a means of exploiting those already in a weaker position I have that strong belief that it will change, especially now that things are digitalising. Things are changing like in most of the countries, there are robots delivering food. So... Yeah, so I think the... Yeah. There will be a change. Yeah. There will be a change. Very soon, our help might not be needed any more. Yeah. The heated debates on the couriers‘ rights are still ongoing.
But in Estonia the start-ups are one step ahead. Soon the human courier will be optional. It’s not science-fiction. These robots are not toys that just drive back and forth. We’ve already used them to deliver over 1.8 million packets.
For our future development, Europe is very important. And I believe we’ll soon be in a position to offer our services in many cities. A new study by McKinsey has examined labour market developments in the EU.
By 2030, 21 million jobs could be lost to automation. On the other hand 23 million new ones could be created. So there are prospects — even if everyone will not benefit equally.
I find it hard to explain the beauty of digitalization to a German because they have never really experienced its benefits, how simple life gets when you don’t have to run around in circles, because everything is automated. That’s why the Germans or the Swiss are not putting everything into digitalising their country. But when you compare digital systems, the ability to automate various services, you can see that Western Europe is 10 to 15 years behind Scandinavia.
Europe has a long way to go to catch up with the US and China on the digital front. But the road ahead is a special one, perhaps even exemplary. Nowhere else is the transformation so people-centred.
Matters of privacy and citizen sovereignty are taken seriously as is creating awareness of the issues. For me, the most important thing is that people feel empowered. That is my data, I created, I own it, I control it. That we as a society decide what do we want to do with technology, so that we remain a society for humans and not a technological society. The potential is there. Europe could use the next transformation wave to become more digitally independent and stronger.
The digital future is in our own hands.