Data & Privacy: It Just Got Real

Sam Colyer

Facebook. Controversy. Privacy. Personal Data. GDPR Compliance. That’s pretty much how we’d sum up April, and, let’s face it, we’re really only at the beginning; these issues are going to be hot topics for a long time to come, so let’s explore some of these terms and what they might mean for you.

We’re currently swimming in uncharted waters. There’s more data being created and shared than ever before and consequently decisions are being made on an unprecedented basis in order to stay afloat. We’re all familiar with the Zuckerberg story and his appearance in front of the House of Representatives and Senate earlier last month, but there’s a sense that the hearing itself was a bit of a sham. There’s an engaging point of discussion here: why is Zuckerberg being given the choice to support legislation? How has he reached such a status? How could we have let ourselves fall so far behind when it comes to protecting our privacy?

Given the above, you have to wonder, who actually has the real control here? Are our lawmakers and policy makers equipped with the appropriate knowledge and language to be asking the right questions? The genie’s out of the bottle now so there needs to be suitable structures in place coupled with a robust legal environment to help protect us effectively. All this needs to happen quickly too.

Let’s say for one moment that the lawmakers aren’t as in control of this situation as they should be. Whenever entering new ground, and we’re talking about incredibly complex business models, regulatory ‘catch-up’ is an all too familiar situation.

What then is the answer?

Facebook, Twitter, Google and many other similar companies have helped to create this environment, so perhaps a reasonable answer is that they should share the responsibility in fixing it. Whether that goes as far to suggest they help shape future privacy regulations though is up for debate.

It’s not our intention to purely focus the discussion around Facebook and Zuckerberg here, because it’s entirely possible that others have also been remiss with our data. But Facebook have been at the forefront as a co-creator of this landscape with immense social and commercial success, and seemingly they are first to fall foul of it very publicly with regards to privacy, as far we know…

We could go on discussing the privacy roles and responsibilities of government versus technology giants in this debacle, but there’s another obvious question here:

How responsible are we for our own personal data?

How many times have you “agreed” to terms and conditions without actually understanding the full implications of how your data is going to be used? I know I have, and now I’m starting to wonder, what on earth have I actually been agreeing to? Is it impossible to even control your own data privacy anymore?

What’s more, Facebook’s all over the national news, but consideration should really be given as to how these messages are sitting with actual users. The #deletefacebook campaign failed to gain any traction: infact, monthly active users are still growing as we speak. Despite the sensationalism surrounding the story, users clearly aren’t shying away. If anything, this continued growth only appears to highlight how untouchable some of these tech companies now are.

The immediacy of social media can become addictive, and perhaps is already hard wired in the majority of users, but addicted or not, we should be getting a say in how, or even if, our personal data is shared. The nuance of personal data is also something to consider:

  • Is it more acceptable to share one type of data over another?
  • Do we mind being manipulated by our data choices if there’s a benefit in it for us?
  • Or is it all a bit “big brother is watching”?

Either way, GDPR compliance regulations will soon be helping to address some of these issues and theoretically be providing us all with some much needed protection.

We can hardly write a piece about privacy without mentioning GDPR compliance which is now on our doorstep and actually a pretty big deal. Just earlier in the month it was implied that Facebook would be adopting the EU regulations, yet in practice it has transpired that the rules will have a limiting effect on the social media giant and only users in the EU will be protected. It comes back round to the same discussion though doesn’t it: are policy makers able to challenge this position effectively? Is more collective international action needed?

Regardless of the above, there’s definitely a buzz of activity around the EU regulations. Businesses are now scrambling to meet the 25th May deadline and busy appointing Data Protection Officers and providing training to staff. As consumers we’re receiving a plethora of emails flooding our inboxes asking us if we wish to “opt in or out”? With fines of up to 4% of annual turnover for non compliance, it’s incomparable to the existing £500,000 fines under the Data Protection Act. Like we said, it’s a pretty big deal.

2018 is certainly going to be the year that we return to focus on privacy. Not just because of GDPR compliance, but because we’re entering an extraordinary time where environments created by technology are not yet fully understood nor are they able to be effectively controlled by those that govern and regulate.

So whatever capacity you’re reading this in, it’s likely we’re all in a similar boat when it comes to privacy issues, let’s just hope the next few months will be plain sailing when it comes to GDPR compliance and the protection of our personal data.

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