Fear of data usage resembles fear of steam train

Denis Doeland
Sep 28, 2019 · 6 min read

Many organisations are concerned about the effects of the new privacy legislation. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) makes it mandatory for organisations to operate with more accuracy from May 2018 with the data they store from citizens (such as customers and followers). This legislation came after social unrest about data use and storage. The discussion makes one think of previous fears for technological innovations.

Fear of technology

The fear that new technology has more drawbacks than benefits is nothing new. In some cases, this fear is even justified. But more often than not the fears turned out to be unfounded. Consider for instance the introduction of the steam train. Back then, people believed that travelling by train was unhealthy: one could suffocate or get a brain disease. Farmers were afraid that their horses would be terrified when the train raced passed, and that the cows would provide sour milk.

Dire warnings were issued at the time of the introduction of the printing press, the radio, television and even the washing machine. Many such examples are provided in Nick Bilton’s book ‘I live in the future & here’s how it works’. The fear of technological changes is a normal phenomenon. The social fear and unrest for data usage is very understandable. Despite not being able to fully see all the implications, I am optimistic rather than pessimistic.

Impact of the debate

Don’t get me wrong. It is good and sensible that there is legislation for the protection of data from citizens. The legislation concerning data storage and privacy are essential to provide more clarity. People and organisations are happy to exchange data with each other, in order that the user experience of the consumer is advanced, for instance. In addition, it also allows companies to be able to communicate with potential customers in a more targeted way, which makes marketing efforts more effective.

One of the forms of targeted communication, are so-called ‘targeted’ advertisements or messages: content that is based on your browser and search history. You’re looking for sneakers at an online store and suddenly you see banners everywhere with the same shoes. Creative come up with a nice way of taking this further, by creating banner art — banners with art, so that you are less frequently confronted with your search history.

On the one hand it is good to receive advertisements which are relevant, so that the offer (yet still undesired) is suitable for you. Nevertheless, some people are not comfortable with so many companies knowing so much about them. This results in a serious debate which has led to this new legislation.

Implications for organisations

At the same time this privacy legislation has huge implications for companies that use data to communicate with (potential) customers in a smarter way. The citizen can be removed from an organisation’s system. He or she retains ‘the right to be forgotten’.

For example, organisations collect data about someone’s digital behaviour (website visit, what he or she likes on Facebook, etc.), to better understand the person that it is connected with. This optimises the relationship with the follower, fan or potential customer, resulting in a faster improvement of the relationship. This challenges organisations to be relevant in the lives of their followers. If organisations do not focus on this relationship, the GDPR will have drastic consequences for their business.

Technology optimist

The social unrest which was at the foundation of the GDPR coming into effect, appears to be exaggerated. Just as a doctor cannot do anything for a patient if he or she knows nothing about the patient, a company can also do nothing for a fan, follower or customer if they do not know anything about him or her. In that regard, both parties benefit from data exchange.

Many organisations are not yet compliant with the new legislation. In some respects, I also violate the privacy legislation in my daily, personal use of the different platforms. By combining data from various sources. This creates contextual insight for me. I also do this on a professional basis at a larger scale, creating an optimal relationship with the fan, follower or customer. We subsequently send them targeted content that can be of value to them. There are three reasons why I am optimistic about proceeding with data:

Commitment through connections

As artists and fans, we once decided to link up, establish a connection. You decide to follow an artist on Facebook, subscribe to a company newsletter, download an app which makes your life easier or register in a digital database in another way.

By using these services or products, you are establishing a connection. As long as artists continue to offer added value in the lives of their fans, fans will commit themselves and establish connections with artists. You see the same in the relationship between organisations and their customers or users. This puts the citizen in control.

Another definition of privacy

Chatbots allow users to communicate in real-time with artists and organisations. It also shows something else: that impertinent questions are asked. For example, how much someone earns. Or whether an artist is in a relationship. And other nonsense. Artists feel that they are expected to share increasingly more with their fans. Privacy is a two-way street, just as a relationship. It is expected that privacy gets a completely different meaning in the 21st century.

Joint solution

Due to the fact that we are making technological progress, people are sceptical about the consequences of this. We were warned about the dangers of trains: the cows’ milk will go sour. The internet was also not welcomed with open arms. This history complicates the debate surrounding data and privacy. It is also a complex theme, where a critical attitude is warranted, but there are now sufficient signs to assume that this problem too will be solved by a joint solution.

Parallel with internet

In many ways, the advent of the smart use of data could be compared with the rise of the internet. Can you remember how the internet came about? At the end of the 1960s, the U.S. Department of Defense financed a research project into computer networks, which led to the ARPANET. This network of initially four computers from universities grew in the 1980s to the backbone of Local Area Networks (LANs) throughout the U.S.

Aside from the American network, various other networks existed, such as the European EUnet and the Dutch NLnet. The internet was founded by joining all these networks. In the mid-1980s only a few thousand computers were connected; today it totals billions of computers and devices.

What has remained over time: the internet is not a central network, but exists of gateways and relays all over the world. From internet junctions or hubs, such as the Amsterdam Internet Exchange (also called AMS-IX). It can be described as a global network of computer networks that are linked via TCP/IP technology.

No organisation is responsible for the Internet as a whole. This responsibility is shared by internet hubs and providers who ensure their part of the network is maintained. They all took their joint responsibility.

The same parallel

What about the security and verification? With regards to the internet: we only arrived at the https era just 18 months ago. Google punishes websites (by ranking them lower) if they cannot show that information is exchanged securely with this https extension.

Furthermore: at the start of the year, 85 percent of all companies did not have this extension. However, the internet has been in operation for more than 25 years. This shows that some protocol, security and verification issues are solved sooner or later, but that the technology can become mainstream in the meantime.

No sour milk

We see that in the digital domain the demand from those present leads to change. The call for a safer internet ultimately led to a https extension. The call for handling the data of individuals differently has led to the GDPR. It is good that the possibilities of data, and the limits we should set for it, are being considered and discussed. The doom scenarios which are being portrayed are not only unoriginal, but are also disproved time after time with practical examples from the past.

The fact that the new data legislation has a huge impact on the daily practice of data for business owners and organisations is now indisputable. I will describe how they can protect themselves against the implications of this legislation, and keep their data engine running, in a later post. Do we already know all the implications? Hell no! Just as people used to believe that cows would produce sour milk and horses would become stressed due to the introduction of the steam train. Currently, the fear of data usage resembles the fear of the steam train.

>>> Go to the next chapter

Denis Doeland

Written by

Author, Blogger, Disruptor, Maven, Numerati and Transformer. Check more on: denisdoeland.com

Digital Assets by Denis Doeland

In order to get started with digital change, it is important to realize that this change consists of three fundamental core elements. Force, Power and Potential. Learn through this publication to make optimal use of of the digital capacity of your organization.

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