Privacy in The Era of Big Data

In an age where the Internet does not forget, access to technology and technological devices is not only easy but cheap. People are using all kinds of tech products and services and most users sign on to these services without reading through the terms and conditions keenly to ensure that they are protected before sharing their private information.

On top of that, most organizations (private and public alike) tend not to invest enough in ensuring the protection of user data. The rules and regulations are also very lax, especially with the lack of data protection laws in most countries and thus, there are currently no real consequences for the mishandling of private or personal information.

Data protection and privacy are some of the most underrated acts of personal protection. Without proper laws, rules, regulations, and sensitization around data protection and privacy, increasing numbers of corporate and government institutions will continue to exploit user data for their own benefits without proper consent or acknowledgement. And without meaningful data literacy, individuals will continue to share private information online while being oblivious of the impact of their data being made available in this way.

By being unaware about the value of their data, Internet users expose themselves to cases of identity theft and data fraud. Increasingly, these cases are starting to take center stage in developing countries. Cases of identity theft are rapidly growing in East Africa with unsuspecting victims having their identities used for criminal activities or even signing up for services that they do not consent to.

A recent example of this problem occurred in the just concluded election in Kenya, where voter data for those that are registered ended up in the hands of those that were campaigning for various electoral seats. As a result, many people took to social media to demand that their data be either removed from the voter register that had been shared online or that the electoral commission implement better security measures on the data that has been entrusted with them.

For a healthy Internet, users need a level of assurance that what they share online will not be used against them. Through the Mozilla fellowship, I aim to raise awareness on the need for data protection and privacy, especially among consumers and providers of services. The support by the Mozilla Foundation is especially important to support the study of the various existing laws that touch on data protection and privacy and cases of infringement of user data privacy in the public and private sectors.

Through this fellowship, I will have engagements with various key stakeholders (policy makers, industry players and the consumers) and make recommendations on how to ensure that the existing data protection and privacy regulations are more inclusive and that they are educating users on the measures that can be taken to protect their data, while at the same time developing guidelines on how service providers can protect user data more effectively. All the findings are recommendations will be published.

I was the project coordinator for the Government of Kenya’s Open Data Project and during this time, I was able to create professional networks with the various key stakeholders both locally and in the East African community. This will create an important platform to steer this work. The tech policy fellowship has also provided a great avenue to continue the work and especially to focus on ways to improve our data access, communication and dissemination.