Data Privacy has, fortunately, become a growing concern for everyday people who find themselves not only living their lives online, but also being bombarded and targeted by marketers due to the digital footprints they leave behind. In a more harmless sense, it extends to no more than a real annoyance. Every word you utter seems to result in Facebook or Instagram or one of thousands of other platforms trying to pitch you to consume or buy through their channel. In a more serious sense, data abuse has gotten completely out of hand, where people are being maliciously attached, cloned or robbed due to their data being easily leaked or found these days.
While speaking at a privacy conference in Europe recently, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook was outspoken about data privacy when he said “Our own information — from the everyday to the deeply personal—is being weaponized against us with military efficiency”. Going further by calling it the “Data Industrial Complex”. Harsh words no doubt, but unfortunately truer today than every before. Using information and data about people is of course a massive business today, which results in tens of billions of dollars in annual advertising revenue. This is a big carrot in front of a lot of technology companies that seem to find it irresistible to pass up these dollars. Unfortunately, it is the end users that suffer the pitfalls of these pokes and prods, something Cook referred plainly to as “surveillance”.
If you have ever been a part of an e-commerce or app platform, you know well, just how much data is gathered at every stage of a customer’s journey. Even a seemingly straightforward app notification on your phone is tracked to when it reached your phone, how soon after you either swiped it away or clicked on through to the app – and that tracking follows on into what you did within the app on that particular day, and what other products they could push your way because you viewed on item or another. Everything you do online today is tracked to the greatest minutia, and whether considered partially or totally anonymous, it does not mean you as an individual cannot be pieced together with increasing ease. Cook said, “These scraps of data, each one harmless enough on its own, are carefully assembled, synthesized, traded, and sold”. Perhaps the worst experience is realising that your apps and communication cross-pollinates from one platform to another. Make a call to a handyman, and that information is stripped, the caller is defined, and Facebook and LinkedIn and a half dozen other apps will then want to help you connect with him.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) enacted in May from the European Union will go a long way to move the issue of data protection forward – making corporation more responsible for what data they collect and how it is used, but it will do fairly little to stop companies from losing your data, having it stollen, or otherwise misusing it. The recent breaches of tens of millions of users by Facebook and Google are testament to that fact.
What may be even more of an issue is payments data of individuals. As more and more super apps, digital banks and thousands of fintech companies look to make the digital economy ever more inclusive, the issue of payments data and its privacy will undoubtedly take centre stage soon enough. The reason this is particularly concerning is because of the way our societies are built.
99% of all adults wake up each day to earn money! Soak that in for a moment. The core purpose and driver of most people is to gain more of the power-medium of societies and communities, money… So as more and more financial services are being offered and thrust into the palms of our hands with smartphone apps, the more it seems relevant to not allow payment data to be as loosely managed as personal data has been in the past. As an example, is it good for society that payment data is processed, and an AI spits out a Yes or No as to whether a farmer should get a loan or not that could feed his extended family; all because past data paints a completely different picture to the ambitions and sincerity that a farmer might have? What about someone who is starting a business in a down-trodden neighbourhood?
We live in a world today where people advocate crypto-currencies to being the panacea of poverty… obviously it is not. But still, there are such gaps that exist in the world of haves and have-nots, and believe it or not, data privacy for payments will play a huge role in how that gap is closed, particularly within the digital economy to come.