Regulations and Greater User Control Needed for Use of Online Personal Data

Monday 27 June 2016

Published
Monday 27 June 2016
2016
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Fon Mathuros, Head of Media, World Economic Forum, Tel.: +41 79 201 0211, Email: fmathuro@weforum.org

· Regulations should be in place to control how consumers’ personal data are being collected online, used and shared by companies

· Online users need to have a greater say over the kind of information they are willing to share

· Public literacy programmes on algorithms will help preserve freedom of choice

· The Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2016 is taking place in Tianjin, People’s Republic of China, from 26 to 28 June

· Follow the Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2016 (#amnc16) at http://wef.ch/amnc16

Tianjin, People’s Republic of China, 27 June 2016 – Regulations should be in place to control how consumers’ personal data are being collected online, used and shared by companies, experts concurred in a panel discussion at the Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2016 on algorithms and the loss of privacy. They were debating the motion that losing control of our personal data is offset by the power of convenience of algorithms. The latter refers to coding language that drives most websites and mobile applications to recognize preferences and influence what consumers see online.

For regulations to be truly effective, there needs to be consistency in government and private-sector understanding of privacy issues, in addition to common international standards on how data is managed. “There is a clear divergence of thought between what happens in Europe in relation to how data is managed and controlled and what happens in the US. There has to be some convergence in the management of data,” observed Rob Leslie, Chief Executive Officer, Sedicii, Ireland.

Consumers need to be given a greater say over the kind of information they are willing to give up, the experts agreed. For example, mobile applications frequently ask for carte blanche access to a variety of personal data on a mobile device that are seemingly unrelated to the online service rendered.

“Right now, it’s an all-for-nothing proposition,” noted Quentin Clark, Chief Business Officer and Member of the Global Managing Board, SAP, USA, referring to demands by some websites and mobile apps for total access to data in exchange for access to content. Clark said he thinks it may take several notable incidents involving the loss of privacy before all stakeholders start demonstrating concern. There should be a third option, said Leslie, who suggested people be given the choice to pay for online service in return for not sharing personal data.

Farida Vis, Director of the Visual Social Media Lab and Faculty Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, underscored the importance of introducing what she termed “consumers’ algorithmic literacy”. Public education can be helpful in raising consumers’ understanding of algorithms and how it influences their decision-making so that an individual’s freedom of choice is not compromised, explained Vis. This is particularly important in political elections, where algorithms may influence voting behaviour and obfuscate the decision-making process. She also raised the spectre of user profiling based on algorithms and how it may lead to class discrimination and limit the potential of certain segments of the population.

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All opinions expressed are those of the author. The World Economic Forum Blog is an independent and neutral platform dedicated to generating debate around the key topics that shape global, regional and industry agendas.