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A milestone in the personal data debate

Posted on: Thursday 13th of March 2014

Yesterday saw two significant milestones in the debate about personal data. First, the European Parliament approved proposals in a 621-10 vote to revamp Europe’s data protection regulations. Despite the biggest corporate lobbying exercise in history by the likes of Google and Facebook, the proposed provisions are more or less unchanged.

Second, Tim Berners-Lee, ‘father of the web’, called for a new internet ‘Magna Carta’ to establish internet rights and responsibilities and prevent its original vision and ideals being discarded.

The EU’s current data protection regulations were written before the internet. They didn’t use the actual words but their underlying philosophy was that personal data is the person’s and it should be used only if the person wishes it, for purposes to benefit that person.

Since then, a new philosophy – and business model – has risen to challenge this approach. This new business model sees personal data as a corporate ‘asset’ to be monetised by those who can harvest it, largely without individuals knowledge, understanding or permission.

There are countless arguments about details, but the EU’s proposed new regulations re-establish the original vision of personal data as the person’s. And Tim Berners-Lee’s call for an internet bill of rights is recognition that the net’s wild west time of indiscriminate gold prospecting has to come to an end: our society cannot be ruled by cowboys.

Privacy and growth

With perfect timing,  this week’s edition of Marketing Week carries a cover story on the new personal data economy. The article presents a way through a dilemma created by the way the personal data debate has been framed so far.

If you focus only on regulation, you end up with a narrow compliance mentality focused on all the things you can’t do. On the other hand, if you focus only on innovation and monetisation, you risk riding rough-shod over individuals’ rights and sensibilities – thereby suffocating trust.

The debate therefore ends up in a dead-end: presented as a Hobbesian choice between privacy OR growth.

The way forward is to recognise individuals’ role as data generators, managers and users.  Empowering individuals with their own data is, in effect, a new sector of the economy, requiring countless new services all of which focus on delivering privacy AND growth.

That’s what our Personal Information Economy conference on March 20 is all about: how big this opportunity is and how to seize it. We’ve nearly reached capacity but we have a few places left. So if you want to attend, make sure you register soon.