Privacy Concerns in The COVID Business Climate

COVID created new data markets that are poorly understood. There is opportunity for businesses and threats to individual privacy.

Vin Vashishta | Originally Published: June 2nd, 2020

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COVID has impacted revenues across industries. Selling data is an attractive revenue replacement option. It is low cost to productize. There is high demand. Users have given companies data gathering consent under the assumption that it would be used in the scope of that company’s activities.

Companies Changing Their Gathering and Sharing Policies

Car companies seem like a nonthreatening data gatherer. A car needs location data to give us directions. A car needs diagnostic data to notify us of required maintenance. A car needs access to our phones for connectivity and convenience.

Car companies like Infiniti have recently amended their data policies to allow them to sell and share data with other companies. Now insurance companies have access to data about how fast the car drives, how often the car is driven, what neighborhoods the car spends time in, etc. They can use that data in risk models to determine premiums.

There are ways to limit data gathering but that often means limiting features you bought the car for. Opt out means losing value you paid for. Opting out is poorly documented especially for non-technical drivers. Few people read an email with updated privacy notifications. The number of places data gathering settings need to be disabled is another barrier.

Bankruptcy Creating Data Asset Sales and Neglected Data Security

Businesses declaring bankruptcy creates another threat to privacy. When a business is dissolving, so does their data governance. Personal data goes out the door on laptops, drives, and personal cloud storage as employees are laid off. Creditors are in a grey area when it comes to asset liquidation which might include personal data, sometimes inadvertently. They can easily sell a server without looking at what is on the drives.

Customers are not aware that a business they had an interaction with is now distributing their data. Their data is probably protected from a marketing or spam emails perspective. There is less clarity on whether that data can be used to build models or aggregated with existing data. Once either of those happens, traceability is usually lost.

Long Term Impacts

This is not going to be addressed or resolved while companies are focused on adapting, recovery, and sometimes survival. Regulatory agencies are going to be facing budget cutbacks. For individual privacy and data security, this is a loss that will continue for years. It may create a precedent for personal data use, further rolling back control of personal data.

Pragmatism about privacy is unpopular. The bias towards socially acceptable conclusions or calls to action masks reality. The wider availability of personal data is an opportunity for both businesses and the machine learning field. In the current economic climate which is worse, layoffs and loss of value or loss of privacy?

Businesses will create monetization strategies for their existing data and leverage newly available data to improve their bottom line. Data scientists will be able to build more personalized products and improve what the business already offers.

The companies who will be viewed positively once scrutiny is applied to this time are those who balance profitability and accountability. The way Infiniti approached this is a good example. They created a notification policy which is outwardly accountable while also acting as responsible stewards of the business. That is authentic and defensible.

The loss of privacy pertains to everyone involved in the monetization process. From CEO to shareholder to data scientist, you are all in my datasets. I also balance profitability and accountability when using your data. The use of private data will continue until the determent of that practice becomes greater than the losses from ethical data usage.

My discussions of privacy and security revolve around the premise of this site. Will you cash the check and leave broken privacy behind or will you work to build the field on solid foundations? It is a choice of near term versus long term gain. Unethical use of private data is both pragmatic and unsustainable.