Building trust with ethics of data sharing

The world is increasingly getting driven by data. Data analysis is providing organizations with unimaginable insights, helping them to innovate, excel and grow. Be it crisis management or preparing for the future, the power of data is bringing in a new level of excellence in each aspect of our lives.

Data Privacy Concerns

As more and more businesses are moving towards harnessing the power of data in every step of their functioning, right from targeting customers to providing high-quality customer service, the data privacy concerns are rising.

COVID-19 has brought more attention to these concerns. Misuse of personal location data by corporates like Google and Facebook has always been a point of controversy. In 2018, Facebook was alleged of data leak whereby millions of Facebook users' personal data was harvested without consent by Cambridge Analytica, predominantly to be used for political advertising. Following a trial, Facebook had to pay $5 billion as fine.

In 2019, Google was fined EUR 50 million ($55 million) by French data regulator CNIL for violating the European Union’s data protection rules. Even recently, The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) made an allegation against Google that it has misled the consumers in order to extract maximum amount of personal information combined with internet activity. The information collected was used for targeted advertising.

These incidents clearly highlight the need of having strong data sharing regulations and following ethical practices in data sharing.

Stricter Regulations and More Trust

Most of the applications today seek consent of users for using their data. However, this remains a grey area. Survey reveals that while users give consent to share their data, they prefer more transparency with respect to where their data is being used. This is where the issues of data standards, data governance mechanisms, ethical and professional principles, open data practices come into play.

The rising concerns around data privacy has been increasing pressure on governments to put in place comprehensive data privacy regulations and thankfully there has been noteworthy progress in this realm.

The European Union implemented the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in April 2018 which has become the gold standard of all data privacy regulations. It has had a strong impact on the global consensus around privacy, fostering greater transparency.

Recently, with more and more COVID-19 applications coming up across the globe, the European Union (EU) released some guidelines for member countries and health authorities to develop new apps. The document sets out a number of features and requirements which the apps must meet to ensure compliance with the EU’s privacy and personal data protection legislation, particularly the GDPR and the ePrivacy Directive. In its 14-page guidelines, the commission ensures that an individual’s privacy is not affected.

On June 28, 2018, the US state of California enacted a regulation known as CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act). It became effective on January 1, 2020. According to the act, a consumer has the right to request a business that collects his or her personal information to disclose it and inform them about the purpose for which the data is being collected. In 2019, the Australian federal government brought changes to the Privacy Act, 1988, primarily increasing the penalties for data breaches.

In India as well, The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 regulates the processing of personal data of individuals by Indian and international government and private companies. It also requires that a serving copy of personal data is stored within the territory of India. Similar regulations have been implemented in Thailand, Japan, Brazil, South Korea to control data breach.

While the regulations are bringing in the necessary changes, helping the world to combat the data privacy battles, a lot remains to be accomplished. For effective implementation of data privacy, it is necessary that the authorities collaborate with other stakeholders.

Collaboration with Other Stakeholders

National regulatory offices must leverage their coordinating role and partner with other stakeholders to develop and promote the adoption of inclusive data standards, governance frameworks and technologies, and communication strategies that enhance trust in data. Private organizations like OmniSci, an American-based software company, are working on ways of protecting data. OmniSci uses differential privacy to roll up results based on individual, aggregated data.

Geonovum, the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) executive committee in the Netherlands has developed an ethical framework for the use of personal location data. The purpose of the ethical reference is to inspire data users, but also policy makers and decision makers to help them collect, use and apply personal location data responsibly. In the document, one can find a number of tools for ethical behaviour when applying location data. Inspiration is drawn from existing ethical codes and supplemented with input from meetings. Parts of this document still need to be enriched with examples, reflection and additions. To build more trust in data and statistics, it is necessary that more such initiatives take place.

There is no doubt that data helps companies to thrive when the economy is up, succeed when the economy is stable, and maintain when the economy falters. However, to maximize the value of data, every organization should seek data-sharing best practices and ensure that it pays due consideration to ethical concerns.

Data sharing issues require attention from the leaders and thus has been rightly chosen by the 2020 Virtual UN World Data Forum as one of the themes. The Theme by focusing on how ethical and professional principles, combined with user engagement, open data practices, data protection policies and methods, and the upholding of data quality standards can contribute to build and maintain trust in data and statistics, will play an important role in creating a more aware community.

Let’s be a part of the Forum and take an important step towards creating a more secure world!