The World Economic Forum, a nonprofit best known for its annual gathering of global business and political elites at Davos, has made data privacy a key focus in recent years. We talked to Bill Hoffman, who spearheads their cross-industry initiative on personal data, while researching The End of Anonymity, one of our 10 Trends for 2014 and Beyond. Hoffman discussed some of the privacy approaches businesses should embrace, the rising notion of personal data as currency and why arguing that “Privacy is dead” is a cop-out.
The collection of personal data is becoming a bigger concern for consumers, but marketers see it as a huge opportunity to better understand their customers. How do we start balancing the concerns or needs of both parties?
It’s an opportunity to create new value, to deliver services that are more personalized, to unlock this new asset class of data. From my vantage point, what initially started as an entrepreneurial idea, as a notion that a few evangelists held, has spread. There’s also a growing recognition that along with the upside are also the risks of reputational harm—that when there’s a breakage and lack of stewardship in the way data is managed, there is a very significant downside.
One of the things I’ve noticed is the heightened awareness on both sides of what a tightrope this is and the need to be more accountable—recognizing that silver bullets, one-size-fits-all solutions, aren’t going to be effective over the long term. And then you have to work out, how can you be accountable in a world where things are constantly changing?
The sophistication of, “How do we start to establish principle-based governing systems?” is maturing. We hear from a number of people who have been thinking about it from an infrastructure and technology perspective. So if we can begin to answer the question of, “Who has a copy of your data and where is your data?” that will be a big step forward.
Almost every day now there are disclosures of data being used in a manner in which it wasn’t originally intended. The notion of surveillance is also broadening. I don’t think there’s anyone that denies there is growing sensitivity toward that. Though there’s this notion that the harms are intangible. In general it’s also created the beginnings of a stronger voice for accountability in how data is used, given that it’s just a much more complex and complicated world.
Does data grow more valuable as more is created, or does it become less valuable?
It’s grains of sand, right? The potential of more informed, more granular, better decisions—better insights—clearly can be a function of how much access, how many raw bits did you feed into the equation? In and of itself, data is inert. We need to push the analytical end a little further in the context of what decisions are being rendered with it—what happens to an individual versus the originating source of the data. We are at the very early stages. Capturing data is really tough to limit; if we focus more on the usage, that will give us better governance and a better way to define appropriate uses.
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