Once the preserve of computer scientists, 2018 has been the year when data handling became front page news. And rightly so.
The technology sector has been assailed by data handling scandals at some of the globe’s largest companies. The world-at-large has woken up to the disturbing possibility that personal data has been used for purposes far beyond what we would consider reasonable.
What’s more, on May 25 this year the EU is set to implement the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Any company with EU customers, regardless of where that company is based, must abide by stringent new data rules or face large fines. A potent mix of public opinion and unfamiliar new regulation has created something of a perfect storm for companies that process data. (And in 2018, that means almost all companies in any sector).
But what is most interesting, is how data handling has begun to transcend legal or regulatory obligations. Consensus is building that data privacy is an issue bound not by rules and laws, but by morality and ethics. Put simply, companies should abide by data laws not because of the risk of being fined, but because it is the right thing to do.
In this way we see data as being the ‘new fur’. We have seen a palpable shift towards companies choosing proactively to change the way they act, in the same way that clothing manufacturers saw a change in public opinion and began to distance themselves from fur in the 1980s and 1990s.
For example, Wetherspoons recently just deleted their whole customer database. They looked at what used to be an asset and realised it was a huge liability. However, most companies still need to actually use their data. They need tools to help them handle data ethically and adjust to the new reality.
That's what we're trying to make with Hazy, a tool that helps companies keep using data whilst respecting customer privacy. As a result, we’re getting large numbers of companies approach us to help them stay compliant and harness anonymisation to reassure their customers that their data is protected.
It is undeniably a net-positive that 2018’s data scandals will have a lasting effect on the industry. Fast forward ten years and well look back in horror at how we used to think it was acceptable to play fast and loose with other people's data. Just as we do now about wearing fur.