Security breaches undermine confidence in personal data industry

Published May 30th, 2012 - 03:00 GMT
Appropriate use of personal data can lead to new economic value
Appropriate use of personal data can lead to new economic value

The internet economy in the G-20 is larger than the GDP of Brazil or Italy and is expected to nearly double to $4.2 trillion by 2016. However, this growth could be severely limited without an effective set of “trade rules” to ensure the appropriate flow of personal data.

Rethinking Personal Data: Strengthening Trust, a report from the World Economic Forum, produced in collaboration with The Boston Consulting Group, suggests that appropriate use of personal data can create enormous value for governments, organizations, and individuals. It can help achieve new efficiencies in business, tailor and personalize new products, help respond to global challenges, and empower individuals to engage in social, commercial, and political activities more effectively. 

Personal data, however, remains an asset without clear trade rules and, as a result, is at significant risk of not yielding potential value. High-profile security-data breaches are common place. Individuals are increasingly concerned about intrusions into their privacy and the possibility of their personal data being used for purposes of which they do not approve. Companies are unclear about what they can and cannot do with personal data and are either standing on the sidelines or forging ahead with an unclear understanding of liabilities and the potential for negative impact on their reputations and brands. Governments are proposing various laws and regulations to protect privacy while also aiming to encourage innovation and growth.

“Appropriate use of personal data can lead to new economic value, as the recent valuations of companies that collect and utilize personal data would suggest. And it can foster significant social value—benefiting industry, individuals, and governments alike,” said John Rose, senior partner at BCG. “But data is an asset that needs to flow to create value—and that requires trading rules that balance the interests of all stakeholders.”

The question is how to establish a clear, robust set of rules that will enable appropriate data flow and fit the speed at which today’s hyper-connected world moves. There must be clear rules and accountabilities but also sufficient flexibility to deal with a rapidly moving, complex, and uncertain set of needs and opportunities. The report analyzes these challenges and outlines concrete steps that stakeholders can take, focusing on three areas:

Upgrading Protection and Security. Focus on how to protect privacy and secure personal data against intentional and unintentional security breaches and misuse.

Agreeing on Rights and Responsibilities for Using Data. Establish consensus on rights, responsibilities, and permissions for use of personal data that recognize the importance of context and the need to balance the interests of multiple stakeholders.

Driving Accountability and Enforcement. Hold organizations accountable for protecting and securing personal data and using it in accordance with the rights and established permissions for trusted flow.

Joerg Hildebrandt, Partner and Managing Director at BCG Middle East said, “The findings of this report are equally relevantfor the Middle East where the digitial economy is becoming an important component of many countries’ GDP. To give one example, the Saudi internet economy is projected to rise to SAR 107 billion by 2016, representing 3.8 percent of GDP. Trends such as this, combined with several other indicators (the growth of social media, the high rates of internet and mobile phone penetration etc) point to increasing levels of connectivity which would further facilitate the flow of personal data in the region. This means that dialogue about the frameworks required for the use of this personal data is becoming increasingly important.”

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