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Of Trust, Ownership, and Protection: A doctrine for treatment of data in the digital economy

January 16th, 2019

If there is one truth that businesses world over are coming to terms with, it is that ‘Data NEVER sleeps’. In a study of the same title, it has been estimated that by 2020 for every person on earth, 1.7 MB of data will be created every second. Going by the numbers, this phenomenon has accelerated in the recent past — over the last two years alone, 90% of the data in the world was generated.
A huge amount of data is collected and analysed to generate insights which help to offer customised products and improve customers’ access to existing products and services. With each click, like, share and comment, businesses are using newer datasets to make decisions about the future.

Consumer Consent And Relevance

The promise of power that data ownership brings with it, sparks a crucial debate. The burning question of whose data it is is an important one to explore. It has become a mainstream activity for companies across to collect personal data in order to deliver better customer experiences, develop more innovative offerings, and expand into new markets. However, there is a parallel movement of ‘consumer concern’ arising out of this.

Apart from cybersecurity threats, consumers like you and me are worried about how our data is being used and rightly so. When you break it down, since personal data is of the consumer, created by the consumer and shared by him/her, there is no doubt that the ownership lies with the consumer itself. In what may be termed as a new adage – ‘with ownership comes responsibility’ – consumers need to be aware of the trade-off that occurs as a result of low awareness.

Consent and relevance are two aspects to be cognizant of in this regard and are incidentally key pillars of the recent Data Protection Bill. While consumer consent is a widely known aspect of the draft, we must delve deeper and look at the nuances for making well-informed decisions. For example, the committee recommends giving “data principals” (persons whose personal data is being processed) the ‘right to be forgotten’.

This means consumers will be able to restrict or prevent any display of their personal data once the purpose of disclosing the data has ended, or when the data principal withdraws consent from disclosure of their personal data. Similarly, it becomes important for consumers to analyze if the nature of data in question is relevant for the specific action.

The importance of having stronger mechanisms for seeking customer consent while collecting data, reusing of data and ensuring that the data is not misused or exploited has been re-emphasised over the years. Consent should be explicitly highlighted so that there is no ambiguity over the permissions a customer is granting.

Burying “consent permissions” deep into terms and conditions or privacy policies which more often than not, end up being ignored by the consumer is an issue that needs to be fixed.

CDR: The New CSR

In the case of alternative lending, as the transactions involve financial data, the highest standards of security should be met. These should be evaluated to ensure that the system is foolproof against cyber threats. As data comes in new types and formats and becomes highly unstructured and unconventional, there is a rising debate on the extent to which businesses are responsible for the protection of data.

With this, companies like Microsoft India are taking steps such as the creation and launch of free online courses to allow students, businesses and legal professionals to understand best practices in security.

Broadening the canvas wider, this context also merits discussion around what constitutes responsible business behavior to further the ‘Digital India’ vision. The answer lies in what Accenture refers to as CDR – Corporate Digital Responsibility.

In the current environment of data usage volatility, India Inc must expand CSR to include CDR. Infact, 77% of businesses agree the responsible and secure use of data has become a strategic, board-level issue—and nearly two-thirds report they now have a Chief Data/Privacy Officer or equivalent.

Building Trust In The Consumer Landscape

To sum it up, ownership and protection are two sides of the same coin to unlock the potential of a progressive knowledge economy and build an ecosystem that rests on trust which has and always remain a cornerstone of the BFSI industry.

Trust must be earned and sustained by consumers and businesses through the engagement journey. Fostering trust and creating a behavioral change among consumers will effectively eliminate barriers to fintech adoption and fuel the financial inclusion dream of the country.

The need of the hour is to provide digitally empowering experiences to customers by promising transparency and data security. As the consumer’s requirement for full disclosure increases, companies that understand and take action to build greater trust amongst their stakeholders will benefit highly from their engagement.

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