German chancellor Angela Merkel has urged citizens and businesses in the country to put aside any fears they may have about big data or risk falling behind in the global economy.

Reuters reported that this marks a significant shift in tone for Germany, which has been among the most vocal critics of mass data collection by US-based companies such as Google. 

Germany also has historical reasons for being uneasy about data collections, particularly among those in the east of the country, where many people have memories of the mass surveillance and data collection activities carried out by the Stasi – the East German state security service – prior to the nation's reunification.

As a result many people and organisations based in the nation have been wary of the new wave of data-gathering operations, which may mean it is missing out on opportunities.

Speaking at a conference of business leaders in Berlin, the chancellor particularly encouraged so-called 'Mittelstand' companies – the nation's small and medium-sized family-owned businesses – to embrace the solutions or risk being marginalised.

Mr Merkel said: "Whoever sees data as a threat, whoever thinks about every piece of data in terms of what bad can be done with it, will not be able to take advantage of the opportunity of digitisation."

She added she was not only referring to the increasing web-connectedness of traditional industry, dubbed 'Industrie 4.0' in Germany, but also the gathering of individual data to create personalised products that has proven to be so controversial in the country.

"Many jobs will disappear because they can be replaced by machines," Ms Merkel said. "But I'm convinced that many more jobs will be created through the value of data."

Reuters noted, however, that despite the misgivings about data privacy that are prevalent, many larger German businesses – including banks, carmakers and publishers – and beginning to analyse their customer data more closely in order to spot trends and ensure they are well-placed for the future.