As with all flaws that lead to catastrophe, the spotlight on tech companies and government agencies skirting moral boundaries on the use of consumer data has only entered the public lexicon after a stories history of poor judgement, leaks and outright abuse. IBM is pivoting towards a near future with proper consumer protections in place, which may be the kind of push regulators need to get the ball rolling.
A measured response to privacy meltdowns
Describing what she saw as a "trust crisis" between tech companies and end users, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty has joined Apple CEO Tim Cook in calling for tighter regulations for tech companies that routinely handle customer information. She described various companies as having taken advantage of consumer trust without directly naming any guilty parties while simultaneously calling for a more thorough set of restrictions for how data can be accrued, handled and possibly even sold.
Much of the backlash currently targeted at tech companies comes in the wake of Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal in which the harvesting and misuse of personal data became the new go-to example for data aggregation gone horribly awry. While Facebook has begun fighting the backlash in a wholly predictable move to save face, the wave of concern brought to light by just one company's data handling procedures may have opened the floodgates to regulation the industry isn't ready to adapt to.
Back in August, tech companies began pushing the notion of self-directed regulation in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal as a means of curbing damage before it became too great. In essence, the companies responsible for recent security breaches also wanted to be responsible for the legislation that would stop privacy breaches; To many, this served as little more than a red flag of concern regarding intentions and how effective those measures might actually be.
California passed its own data privacy laws that allow users to see just how a company is using its data, which helped prompt such a quick industry response.
Privacy pushes in an era of public paranoia
These concerns come from a very real place. As it stands, more Americans show concern for their privacy than they do for healthcare according to Harris Poll data. 65 percent of respondents cited data privacy as their most pressing concern, with health care and supporting military veterans close behind. With more eyes fixed squarely on these concerns, every leak and scandal both big and small is receiving attention it may not have received just five years ago.
Concerns regarding the efficacy of self-regulation have been running wild and the last outbreak of privacy breaches and data abuse have started to show the world why a lack of proper regulation regarding what is essentially the Wild West of the digital age can come back to haunt us as time goes on. When boundaries are soft and yielding, more companies are willing to ride that line until it breaks; After that point, finding individuals concerned about their data and its well-being is about as difficult as looking at an NBN availability map.
To try and combat public education issues regarding privacy as well as to help shape future policy, an IBM-affiliated security expert has been brought in to the UK's data protection watchdog group to provide insight. The Information Commissioner’s Office entered the public eye following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, necessitating an increase in both funding and available experts on the topics of security and regulation.
Yet there's a very real chance that this industry response is too late to properly curb the public's distrust for how data is being handled in the business landscape. Every mistake and breach whether well-intentioned or deliberate has chipped away at public trust and the reality is that the tech sector may not fully recover. Chasing after regulation to assuage fears may be too little, too late.