Future of data in a fast-changing digital landscape

With data being the ‘new oil’ and the debates on privacy occupying the center stage of social and political discourse, it is time for the companies to prioritize ‘customer first’ approach. Another interesting trend as a result of data profusion is the innovation that is being fostered. Big data, along with precise location, is proving to be a game-changer and opening unprecedented opportunities in every sector.

However, the demands and expectations of the consumers are fast outpacing the technological capability of the industry. The foremost problem is the accuracy of data and the ability to use it reliably, whether it is in automated map-making, or day-to-day end-user applications. One way to bridge this divide is through real-time streaming that can be made possible by the integration of geo-data with non-spatial data. So far, there is a lack of standardization when we talk about data. Another area of concern is that data analytics capabilities have to be enhanced rapidly to get accurate and reliable insights.

Industry 4.0 would hinge on data above all – data and analytics that would power everything from IoT devices to smart urban mobility. Whether or not companies are enthusiastic about the impending data revolution, they cannot afford to miss it; else they will be rendered irrelevant. Regarding the great disruption catalyzed by data, there would be a complete reorientation of most sectors, as we see them today. So complacency, inertia and a lackadaisical approach to technology would act as a spanner in the works.

Privacy implications vis-à-vis consumers

In the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica- Facebook fiasco, it was revealed that most big tech players were selling user data to third party aggregators. This lead to public outrage and heated debates on one of the most pressing issues of the day – contours of data privacy. There were also demands for data localization and data sovereignty from some quarters. This is fraught with many complications and people are not sure who should they trust more: nation-state government or big tech players.

Besides, except Russia and China, no other country has managed to implement legislations pertaining to data localization and sovereignty. Often the ‘vested interests’ of the tech monopolies come in the way of policymaking. Europe’s GDPR – which has become the benchmark of all data privacy legislations – has had a far-reaching impact on the global consensus around privacy; fostering greater transparency, being a catalyst in the incubation of similar laws and laying the onus on companies to protect user data.

It initiated the precedent of data privacy being an inviolable fundamental right of the user and the pressing need for the governments to enact legislation for its protection. Post the implementation of GDPR, companies are required to handle user data with more responsibility and accountability, and defaulting on it would invite heavy fines. In June this year, Google was fined 50 million Euros for GDPR violation in France. British Airways too came under the scanner and was fined 183 million pounds. In the USA, Jessica Rosenworcel, Commissioner, FCC (Federal Communications Commission), wrote a letter to the four American telecom companies on May 1, 2019, seeking details about their data handling and any sort of collaboration with other companies that offer location-based services.

In reply to the letter by four big American telecom companies – AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon – which has been made public, all of the four companies claim to have stopped sharing user data without authorization by the user. Most of the companies continued to sell user location data to companies even after explicitly declaring in June last year that they would eschew the practice of selling data to monetizing firms.

‘Privacy-by-design’ – the way forward

‘Privacy by design’, as the name suggests, refers to by-default privacy in a system as privacy becoming a prime concern of any enterprise. This is not only ethical but would also boost consumer confidence, which would translate to better brand image and abiding relationship with the customers. Innovation requires transparency, accountability and a conducive environment. All of these are interlinked, with transparency being the first prerequisite for making any system secure and robust. Embedding privacy at the core should be done in such a way that it doesn’t hamper functionality or make the system or app counterproductive. ‘Privacy by design’ is a proactive approach that will preempt privacy breach.