2 Dec 2022

Brands, Data and Why Privacy Sells

Does your company process people’s data? Make privacy a selling point now, says Victoria Baines.

As a business leader, how much time do you spend thinking about data privacy? Chances are you have bigger fish to fry – and employ experts to ensure you are compliant with data protection regulation. But could you be missing a trick?  Victoria Baines, Professor of Information Technology at Gresham College thinks so.

To date the responsibility of businesses to protect people’s data has been bound up with compliance” – she explains. “This tends to mean a focus on doing the minimum to comply with regulations like GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation]”.

Isn’t that a good thing? Yes – says Baines – but it’s not enough for the future of technology.

“Going forward we are going to see more convergence between our physical lives and data sets about us”, she explains.

By this she means the volume of personal information – or data – that is collected about us as we increasingly rely on technology in all areas of our life. From technology that knows our whereabouts, to apps recording everything from our heart-rates, sleep efficacy and how many calories we consume – this is all mainstream right now.

And the trend will continue to grow. While the technology itself can, in many ways, improve our lives, the volume of – often sensitive – data available about us makes us more vulnerable, for example to scams, data breaches and identity theft. And we need to understand this.

“More and more objects in our homes and businesses will be gathering data about you. And when you merge those data sets, people are able to build a much more detailed profile of you than ever before. If your business can demonstrate that users can truly trust them with your data, that’s going to be really positive thing”

“We’ll see this a lot more in the next few years – and we need to have people really properly informed about how to exercise the rights they have over their data. To achieve this, we need to see companies going above and beyond the minimum standard of compliance”.

This, Baines explains, is a mutually beneficial model. Giving consumers more information about data practices, how companies collect and store data, and why this is a problem, will make them better informed and should help tackle cybercrime.

But it can also be a massive selling point for brands and companies.

“Privacy sells” states Baines. You need only look to Apple’s recent stance on privacy to see this is true.

“It’s about re-establishing trust after scandals like Cambridge Analytica. Privacy is now a selling point companies can use to re-establish trust, credibility and your reputation as a brand. You want to be saying ‘yes, we can be entrusted with people’s very personal data and here’s why’”.

She adds to this that we need to be regulating now for future technology – stating that data regulation tends to focus on what’s in front of it and “underestimates the long-term impact of the incremental technology changes that are happening all the time”.

“When I speak to policymakers about the impact of the massive Internet of Things and all these connected sensors collecting data, I quite often get the response ‘But we won’t be there for years’.

“That might be true – but the whole point is we will be there before we know it – and protective regulatory mechanisms won’t have caught up. We’ll be chasing our tails again”

“Obviously we can’t regulate and we can’t put in resource simply because something might happen. But the more that we can anticipate changes in the technology and how they can be misused, the easier it will be to prepare for future cybercrime”.

“We don’t always have to be taken by surprise”, she concludes.

Those who get ahead of the curve and make privacy an asset may well end up as winners.