World Economic Forum: Rethinking Personal Data: Trust and Context in User-Centred Data Ecosystems

InsightaaS: Data privacy is a burning issue these days - especially in Canada, where a poorly-conceived anti-spam law threatens to impinge upon the global digital competitiveness of Canadian businesses (see "CASL and e-communications in Canada: in pursuit of the Dark Ages" for more information).

In the context of CASL and similar reactions to unwanted communications, the World Economic Forum's "Rethinking Personal Data: Trust and Context in User-Centred Data Ecosystems" provides a welcome (and needed) perspective. Highlighted by Richard Platt in the InsightaaS /Cloud LinkedIn group, this report - available via SlideShare - delivers a well-researched, well-reasoned approach to understanding, managing, and building policy around personal data. The paper opens with the observation that "An asymmetry of power exists today between institutions and individuals - created by an imbalance in the amount of information about individuals held by, or that is accessible to, industry and governments, and the lack of knowledge and ability of the same individuals to control the use of that information," adding - importantly - that "new and unanticipated uses of such data drive innovation and economic growth," which provides a corresponding incentive for appropriate personal data management. However, "acceptable use is not binary, but is nuanced;" the paper shows that a wide range of factors, including data types, the types of entities accessing data, the device types used for data transactions, data collection methods, and user involvement (such as opt-in/explicit consent vs. unaware/automated collection), trust in the service provider managing data interactions and 'value exchange' (benefits obtained by users in exchange for data) are all important factors in establishing user perceptions of acceptable use. 

Supporters of CASL and similar actions will be cheered by the finding that a very low proportion of Canadians are found to be agreeable to use of personal data by an unfamiliar supplier offering no benefit to the user. These supporters will be premature in their celebrations. The data used in the study is "current location" captured from a mobile device, which is quite different from email that can be sorted/screened programmatically. Opponents of the legislation will note that at least some recipients of commercial electronic messages do obtain value from them, and that some groups (e.g., early adopters of technology) react differently than the population as a whole, suggesting that a one-size-fits-all solution is a sub-optimal approach to an issue that may have significant economic impact. In the end, both groups would do well to heed the observation contained in the "Policy Implications" section of the report, which advocates for "policy frameworks that are driven by principles and outcomes, rather than process or technology."

Read the Report: