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Netherlands’ AMdEX seeks to democratise the internet

Last year, five Dutch organisations launched an initiative to set up the Amsterdam Data Exchange to simplify data sharing and help democratise the internet

The Amsterdam Data Exchange (AMdEX) is running a project at the Amsterdam Marineterrein in which data from various sensors has been made accessible to residents, businesses, journalists and other interested parties.

This is the first live project at the AMdEX, which was founded last year.

“This provides us with a great starting point to build on the further ambition of AMdEX,” said Willem Koeman, digital lead at the Amsterdam Economic Board, one of the initiators of AMdEX.

The Data Exchange aims to simplify data exchange through a standard infrastructure that allows data to be shared in a controlled, secure manner and on owners’ terms.

People are used to data being sent from A to B via the internet, but when it arrives at its destination, it is not always clear what happens to it, what it is used for and whether it is copied. AMdEX has developed a template to agree on conditions about how to handle shared shared, and Koeman cited the example of the aviation industry, which is hugely dependent on data for innovation.

“Aircraft generate an enormous amount of data, for example on flight hours,” said Koeman. “After a certain number of flight hours, an aircraft must be brought in for maintenance. But no airline has enough data by itself to do an analysis about the optimal maintenance time window. If they want that insight, they’d have to share data between several airline companies.”

But the idea of sharing data with competitors is not warmly embraced, he added – even if it benefits the industry as a whole. “That’s why it is important to make agreements about what data is shared, who owns it, how long it can be used and for what purpose.”

Koeman said there is a huge volume of data available, but as with airline companies, many data owners are reluctant to share data. “Competitive interests often prevent organisations from sharing data or believing they can,” he said.

Digital notary

But innovation, or just that extra step taken, so that a product or service better meets the demands and needs of a target group ultimately comes from sharing data. “That is why AMdEX acts as a kind of digital notary,” said Koeman. “We are the independent third party to register and enforce agreements about the use of each other’s data.”

To this end, AMdEX has developed a generic template that allows organisations in all industries to share data with each other, in a secure and trusted manner, without an external or commercial party in between. “Now, there is often already some data exchange within a sector, usually involving a big tech company,” said Koeman. “We want to support the common public interest by facilitating and recording generic mutual agreements about property rights. These agreements can be used in any sector.”

The project at the Marineterrein demonstrates the potential, he added, and helps AMdEX to explore the future and scale up.

For example, the data from sensors at the Amsterdam Marineterrein belongs to different owners. “Combining this data creates information that, for example, allows residents to influence developments at the site,” said Koeman. “Companies can use the data in the development of their products and services. Journalists can use it, for example, to see what happens to the water quality when the weather is hot and there is a lot of swimming.”

This information was not previously available, but through AMdEX, interested parties can now obtain it. “People can now request certain data from the Marineterrein data infrastructure,” said Koeman. “AMdEX then checks to see if the applicant meets all the requirements that the data owners have set. Once that is confirmed, AMdEX creates a sub-package of the requested data and sends this as a link to the applicant.”

Read more about sharing data

At the moment, only subsets can be shared. In the future, AMdEX wants to send, for example, algorithms as well as the data. “That way, interested parties can use the data, while not accessing the actual data themselves,” said Koeman.

For both data owners and users, it is nice to have an independent digital notary pulling the strings in the background, he added. “This makes it easier for parties to access data, while there is a lot less manual work involved in sharing data. It is now standardised by us as a ‘trust provider’ and that saves a lot of time and effort.”

Now that the project at the Amsterdam Marineterrein is complete, AMdEX wants to see if it is possible to add more data to the infrastructure there, but also whether the data can be used, for example, in the curriculum of Codam, the Amsterdam initiative that trains people for free to become programmers. “Or that, for example, startups involved in the AMS Startup Booster Programme can use the data to set up and validate their business model,” said Koeman. “That’s the future we envision.”

Although the experiment at the Marineterrein is relatively small, AMdEX's ambition is much bigger, he added. “We want to democratise the internet by giving the data back to the consumers, to the actual owners, and taking it away from the big tech companies.”

The underlying idea of AMdEX is that shared data can provide new information and insights, enabling, for example, diseases to be detected more quickly, or to make smarter use of energy. “All the data needed for this insight is available, but is mostly located in different places and in different organisations that don’t want to share it,” said Koeman. “There is a fear of sharing data, often because people are afraid of giving competitors an advantage.

“As a result of this, we see that scientific research, for example, does not always get off to a good start. Scientists tend to keep their findings to themselves. Often there is a common public interest to be served. By making independent agreements about ownership and use of data, we at AMdEX want to contribute to the democratisation of the internet.”

The founders of AMdEX – the Amsterdam Economic Board, AMS-IX, DeXes, SURF and the University of Amsterdam – gave themselves two and a half years when the initiative began in 2021 to develop the project fully. To this end, they received co-funding from the European Regional Development Fund.

Finding a business model

The biggest challenge is mainly in finding a business model for AMdEX. The goal is to establish an association that will take care of further development and, following AMS-IX’s example, will eventually manage the infrastructure. “We deliberately choose to be an association, because we believe that a party in the middle should not be a commercial party,” said Koeman.

Another challenge for the organisation is to secure digital agreements on a large scale and enforce them. “At the moment, this works well in small, limited cases, but if we want to democratise the internet, it must be possible to do this automatically on a large scale,” said Koeman. “For now, that really remains a work in progress.”

It will therefore take longer than was first envisioned. The aim is to have completed at least five cases during the two and a half years, so that lessons can be learned and developments can be continued.

In about three years’ time, Koeman hopes to have a functioning AMdEX that can record and enforce digital agreements. “Although we originally called ourselves the Amsterdam Data Exchange, AMdEX has no regional ties,” he said. “We are here for all of the Netherlands and Europe. For optimal operation, AMdEX would benefit from collaboration with other exchanges in Europe. I would very much welcome the European Union setting up connected data exchanges in various countries in the near future, so that we become one of the data hubs in Europe, similar to AMS-IX.”

For the next three years, AMdEX’s focus will be on the large-scale implementation of a generic model in different environments, said Koeman. “I think we in the Netherlands have the knowledge and expertise to serve as an example of how to handle data responsibly.”

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