The Data War – a blockbuster starring Sam Security and Pete Privacy

Written by on April 15, 2016 in Opinion with 0 Comments

AdobeStock_64584811_WMCountries used to go to war over oil, and may do again. Right now, it seems increasingly likely that companies will go to war over data. After all, it is the new oil (although its value may be going the same way).

For a long time, we were in the thrall of the big tech companies, blinded by the new toys, services and worlds they opened up for us. Unknowingly, we clicked the magic button and entered nirvana, blissfully ignorant of what we have just agreed to. We had just agreed to give up any rights to ‘our’ data, and said yes, you can use our data to make you money.

Now, it seems, the worm is turning. Customers are blocking adverts in their hundreds of millions. Government funded research is looking into how customers can regain control of their data. Tech companies are going to court over the rights of their customers to know when Governments are asking for their data.

And the European Parliament, after fours years of paying consultants and civil servants far too much (surely, ‘four years of difficult negotiations,’ Ed) has ‘adopted a historic reform of EU data protection legislation’.

Apparently in two years’ time ‘the new General Data Protection Regulation will enable people to regain control of their personal data in the digital age’. And this means ‘having clearer and more understandable information on how our personal data is processed’. Even better, ‘we will also have the right to know when our data has been hacked and we will be able to transfer personal data between service providers thanks to a new right to data portability’.

So, that’s OK then.

Forgive the natural cynicism and ignore the polished nature of the announcement and ask yourself whether there is the slightest chance that 28 individual data protection bodies will a) comply and b) quietly hand over their power to the notoriously inefficient, bureaucratic and allegedly corrupt bunch who sit in Brussels.

But the sentiment is right, and it will be nice to be proven wrong.

What will happen in the intervening two years will be fascinating. One very likely U-turn will be by tech companies. They will turn from poacher to game keeper, or rather companies that mercilessly use our data for profit to companies that publicly protect our data against all comers, even Governments. Already Microsoft is heading to court to fight the Government over whether they should be allowed to tell their customers that the FBI or whoever has requested their data.

As well as the fight between tech companies and Governments – who increasingly seem to be contravening their own constitutions on the right to privacy – Governments themselves seem to be out of step.

The Europeans, who agreed the new Privacy Shield, are already questioning whether the privacy controls in the US are tight enough, and are asking for a review at the earliest opportunity. In the US, tech companies are already going up against the Government, and citing Amendments and their breach. In almost every region a different set of standards and controls will be in place.

So what happens when your data goes from one to another?

And what happens in the two years before the new data protection laws come into effect, if they actually do?

What happens is that a lot of lawyers get very rich, the tech vs Government battle heats up dramatically, the landscape changes to such a degree that the EU ends up paying consultants and civil servants far too much (surely, ‘authorises another four years of difficult negotiations,’ Ed) to come up with something more relevant.

What might also happen is that we get control of our data. That would be a) nice, and b) give the customer the power of negotiation with his service providers, all of them.

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Alex Leslie

About the Author

About the Author: Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet. He is publisher of DisruptiveViews and previously BillingViews. .

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