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It’s Your Privacy, So Fight for It: The Economist Information Forum 2013

Nitin Sumangali |

Fight for your privacy, or lose it.

These were the words Google Chairman Eric Schmidt used when I heard him speak at the Information Forum 2013, hosted by the Economist in San Francisco June 4. The forum was designed to bring together people from all different industries to discuss how new uses of data are transforming business and society. But the question of how individuals’ data is being used and secured was one of the day’s most discussed topics.

In his discussion, Schmidt  articulated a point that lies at the heart of the issue. He stressed that people using the Internet need assurances that their data is being properly secured and anonymized. I and the rest of the Global Insights team take these kinds of capabilities as essentially bedrock, and without them very few Internet services can have credibility.

But Schmidt’s comment that people have to fight for their privacy or risk losing it highlights how the ground of the debate is constantly evolving, , with a need to balance the uses of data with people’s expectations of privacy. Schmidt said that in areas like criminal justice and the use of biometric data, regulators in some markets are starting to set boundaries for what can be collected and how people must be notified. MasterCard’s own research shows that people around the world are broadly aware that their data is worth something, and they think about how their data is exchanged for services of value. Early efforts to regulate how data is used may not prove to be the best solutions.

That is to say regulation may not be the best way to resolve all the current issues concerning privacy. Using the example of YouTube, Schmidt said that in the early days of the site copyright violations resulting from user uploaded content almost doomed the site: regulators wanted to shut it down. Schmidt called this “regulating the mechanism, not the outcome.” Google, however, was able to develop software tools that allowed for better detection and management of copyrighted materials, and YouTube was able to survive.  Similar to technology helping to mitigate a copyright problem, innovative technological developments may provide methods of dealing with privacy issues in ways that balance regulatory, consumer and business interests.

As the nature and public awareness of privacy data evolves, it will be critical for everyone to understand what we want to restrict, what we want to allow, and how people will interact with the data about them. As Schmidt himself noted, these issues may very well be solved by companies and groups that don’t even exist yet.

Topics: Big Data, Payments Strategy

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