How to overcome mistrust of data

The data ecosystem is vast and complex to navigate for its users. Image: UNSPLASH/Campaign Creators

Kimberly Bella
Senior Director, Global Data Office, Visa
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  • The data ecosystem is vast and complex even for seasoned professionals, but more so for average individuals who act as users.
  • The majority of consumers are starting to believe that companies benefit more from their data than they do.
  • Without trust, individuals are less likely to share data. This is why it's crucial to rethink consent management.

The data ecosystem is vast and complex. Even for seasoned professionals, it is difficult to articulate the intricacies of the relationships that exist behind the scenes of making a business function or an application work. How then, do we expect average individuals, who generate much of the data used, to make informed decisions on whether or not to provide their data?

The assumption that enabling more choice via data permissions is too complex to explain, or too difficult for individuals to understand, is no longer an acceptable justification for not creating clearer or more user friendly consent management experiences. Many existing markets, where data is the central asset, were designed at a time when there was a lack of awareness among average citizens that data was being generated or collected. That day has passed – today, individual unawareness has transitioned into apathy, and is quickly moving towards discomfort and distrust.

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Increasing distrust on side of users

Who benefits more from data use. Image: Visa Consumer Empowerment Study

Continued erosion of trust has paved the way for new markets like Privacy Tech and has led to cookie blocking by major tech and hardware companies. Regulators have also taken notice and reacted. According to a recent Visa 2020/2021 Consumer Empowerment Study, 68% of consumers in the US, UK, Australia, Singapore, and the connected populations in Colombia, believe companies benefit more from using their data than they do.

This perceived imbalance of benefits has led to an increasing desire from individuals to take more control over data. As they become more aware of how data is collected and used, individuals have come to increasingly distrust many of the existing entities within the data ecosystem. The same Visa Consumer Empowerment Study found that 76% of consumers want at least the option to control their data. By providing individuals the option for more control, the apathy and growing distrust shifts towards empowerment.

Establishing a framework for consent and trust

Consumers want the option to control. Image: Visa Consumer Benefit Study

Data exchanges for common purpose present a unique opportunity to design systems, governance processes, and user experiences that create trust amongst all stakeholders, especially individuals. Accomplishing trust requires attention to three fundamental areas with a goal of cooperation across: technology architecture, internal governance, and user interactions.

In a recent paper titled, “Data for Common Purpose: Leveraging Consent to Build Trust” , the DCPI Consent and Trust Framework seeks to identify and test different approaches to designing consent mechanisms in data exchanges that supports not only common purposes, but more importantly “commonly understood” purposes.

A framework to improve individuals' trust in data exchanges. Image: DCPI Consent and Trust Framework

The framework aims to create some structure around all of the different opportunities and considerations for improving individuals’ trust in data exchanges. A framework will have to answer questions such as:

  • What are the options for individuals to self audit their data usage?​
  • What resources and processes are established to manage dispute, specifically in relation to consent choices? How do they compare to and interact with other dispute processes?
  • What privacy enhancing technologies exist to protect individual’s identity and data within a data exchange?
  • How can data exchanges communicate the data required for a defined use-case?
  • What technologies exist to promote data minimization during collection, use, and sharing?
  • What are the limitations of these technologies?
  • What measures have been put into place to help the individual manage the complexity of the data exchange environment?
  • How are those measures communicated to individuals?

Rethinking consent management by empowerment first

Growing innovation requires new uses of data. Rethinking consent management is imperative to meet rapidly changing regulatory requirements and to strengthen the trust of individuals. Without trust, individuals are less likely to share data. More importantly, they will become reluctant to participate in the digital economy – a space that is of increasing importance for public and private common purposes.

As Fumiko Kudo said in Good Data: Fostering Public Trust and Willingness, “Trust is strongly recognized when it is being broken and lost.” To avoid this fate, an empowerment-first approach to consent management is crucial – one that centers user control and data minimization, while balancing the pace of data innovation.

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