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Data Transparency and You

Why what you do with personal data has become a hot topic for every business and every individual.

There is an abundance of data in the modern world that is growing at an exponential rate. In 1944, a study of stored information quaintly predicted that university libraries would double in size every 16 years. By 1980, a lecturer on mass storage noted that “…data expands to fill the space available and… the penalties for storing obsolete data are less apparent than are the penalties for discarding potentially useful data.”(1)

By 2008, experts were talking about global data storage in terms of the ‘zettabyte’ – a unit of one trillion gb.

Data is everywhere and in every form, from Facebook selfies and confidential medical records to YouTube videos and the financial disclosures of big businesses. What we have a scarcity of is accessible, high quality and most importantly, trusted data. Because when data lacks sources and traceability, how can it be trusted any more than a fake news site set up to mislead voters?

If all accurate data was shared universally, it could have the power to not only end spam due to targeted advertising but also reduce global food waste and even accelerate medical research. Only of course, we don’t live in a utopia and the real world rarely has such quick fixes.

Businesses are understandably keen to hold onto their customer information. They’ve spent so much time and money gathering it, why should their rivals profit from such insights?

Similarly, individuals are understandably cautious about how much of their personal data is in the hands of others, especially now we are all starting to realise the implications of all those ‘Terms and Conditions’ boxes we ticked without reading.

Sharing data can be a bad thing – we've all heard the horror stories. But it can also be a powerful force for good. Consider the UK’s National Health Service, where providers face mandatory performance targets from the government. Hospitals can be penalised if a patient is readmitted within 30 days of treatment, yet data analysis can help prevent this.(2) Patients seen at A&E who have multiple chronic conditions are now being targeted for additional preventative care. This should not only improve their wellbeing but will also drive down the usage of costly emergency service facilities.

Incredible insights can be derived from data, and occasionally, even unexpected ones too. For example, western societies were alarmed by violent crime rates that suddenly skyrocketed in the 1930s before suddenly plummeting in the 1980s. It was only in the 1990s that a researcher matched this rise and fall to the introduction and phasing out of leaded petrol.(3) Such a strong correlation suggests that lead poisoning caused the violent behaviour but without access to decades of stored data, reaching this conclusion would have been impossible.

So we can see that stored data can be invaluable but it can also be misused. Because of this, in our data-driven age, there must be clear limits that are understandable to all. Does data expire? Can it legally and morally be altered retrospectively? Should individuals be able to access data about themselves? Should everyone have the right to be forgotten?

To address many of these concerns, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a binding regulation that has been created over many years by the European Commission. Due to come into force on 25 May 2018, GDPR will make businesses accountable for explaining to any individual where data about them resides, how it’s been used and who is responsible for it. Businesses will have to inform individuals in the case of any security breach and even delete data if requested to do so.

How businesses collect, store and ask for information will change due to GDPR. Individuals will have to actively opt-in for data collection and consent must be obtained for each new use, preventing the bundling and re-selling of data that has been a recent cause for concern.

The implementation of GDPR is something all businesses must do and while this could be viewed as an additional cost to any organisation, it can also be viewed as an opportunity to make long-lasting change.

The ‘stick’ to GDPR is that failure to comply can result in personal data processing activities being shut down and fines up to 4% of turnover being imposed. The ‘carrots’ to being compliant are numerous though, especially for businesses whose data systems are not robust or agile enough to meet these new demands.

Greater data transparency is set to become the standard for all European individuals and companies. As the world undergoes a period of rapid digital transformation, how your business handles data, analyses it and derives greater insights could be a significant differentiator.

Following on from the busy and insightful day at the GDPR Conference Europe, we are holding a dinner where you can network with your peers and discuss how to offset the costs of regulations by implementing a data management strategy that enables agility and supports your long-term business goals.

Find out more about the dinner and how to register here.