The overarching trend of 2017 will carry over into at least the first half of 2018 and that is data protection and privacy. With the General Data Protection Regulations able to be enforced from 25th May 2018 companies are having to seriously look into compliance and security for data handling. 2017 saw the first real push for compliance, but the first quarter of 2018 will see an increase in activity to capture the opportunity presenting itself in the face of new rights and responsibilities.
In recent years companies have been able to handle more data more effectively, whether for marketing and advertising purposes, improving services or just for client management. The term “Big Data” first came into usage in the 1990s to help describe and categorise the vast volumes of data being stored and analysed by companies at the time. This was prior to the technologies of today which employ machine learning to detect patterns particularly in user behaviour and interactions, shopping habits, web traffic and any other footprints users leave as they consume content on the internet.
Businesses were quick to realise the value of information which could be acquired online with most services requiring detailed sign-up forms which ask for extraneous information which may not even be relevant to the purpose of the service. Names, Email Addresses, Dates of Birth, postcodes, religions, nationalities, blood types, genders and sexual orientation are all up for grabs in these forms. Companies use this information to help “profile” their customers, enabling them to target key demographics who use or are interested in their services or products. This is becoming more apparent on sites like Facebook whose adverts seem to anticipate the needs of the users.
It’s the presence of these prophetic adverts that has made the more cautious users question the availability and accessibility of their information. This has led to users suspecting that some services are actively using their microphones or cameras without notification to gather information. Facebook, Google, Amazon and other players in technology have been suspected and accused of this and sometimes with good reason, but typically it’s just not feasible. Of course, those refer to Facebook. When it comes to Amazon, they’ve managed to put at least 20 million microphones into homes around the world in the form of the Amazon Echo which is actively “listening” for trigger words with some users concerned that Alexa is relaying everything that’s being said back to Amazon for advertising.
As well as this limitless well of information available to these technology giants, the digital footprints left by individuals as they use the internet to work or play can provide valuable insights to anyone willing to pay. Websites have been using cookies for years with few understanding their purpose or what information they’re gathering. While cookies only hold or access information relevant to the webpage(s) concerned, more advanced trackers follow users when they leave pages and report back with browsing habits and clicks.
This then raises concerns about Data Privacy. Who has access to this information? Is it secure? What’s it being used for? How do I delete that information? How do I move the information to another provider? These questions need to be able to be answered by companies aiming to comply with GDPR (which should be every company handling the personal data of a European Union citizen).
So how are Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft and others handling your sensitive personal data? Just now there are too many hurdles in the way for the average user to be able to retrieve that information or manage who has access to their information for specific purposes.
The question also rests with all sizes of British businesses dealing with, handling or storing sensitive personal data. Whether it’s through a Customer Relationship Management programme, mailing list or contact forms filled out on websites most businesses will deal with sensitive personal data on a daily basis. If you would like help understanding the risks your business is facing with this new regulation please get in touch.