Inside the complex world of data & privacy — What you need to know as a consumer and a company

Data is big business and big news these days. Rarely does a week go by without word of some sort of data breach, compromise or problem as companies race to capture everything they can about their customer base. We’ve heard horror stories from Facebook and Target, and just this month, Google agreed to pay a record $170 million fine after regulators said YouTube had illegally collected personal information from children and used it to target them with ads.

Each time once of these incidents arises, it raises the same fundamental question: How can we protect the person behind the user?

RMCSoft is bringing together several tech and marketing experts to dig into that question at our next TechTalk at Advent Coworking, on Sept. 17 from 11:30am to 1 p.m. (The event is free, and you can register online here).

Joining us on the panel are:

  • Bilal Soylu, founder of XcooBee
  • Bryan Dennstedt, chief technology officer partner at TechCXO C-Suite
  • Diona Kidd, co-founder and COO at Knowmad Digital Marketing

In preparation for the event, we spoke with our experts to get some of their advice for navigating the complex world of data and privacy, as businesses and as individuals. Here’s what they had to say.

Don’t expect to be a face in the crowd

Since the dawn of electronic communication, Western culture has floated the competing narrative of living off the grid with complete anonymity. But, with the advent of new technologies — think facial recognition, for one — the potential for complete privacy is a thing of the past, said to Bilal Soylu, founder of XcooBee, a developer of privacy network solutions.

Those things no longer exist, unless you move to a mountain by your lonesome or move to an island somewhere,” said Soylu, who has worked in the security field for the last two decades.

Otherwise, modern society requires connectivity, and connectivity today comes at the cost of control of data.”

Consumers have to share information to buy products and connect on the Web, and most understand that. What they want in the process, however, is agency over their data and transparency from the sources that collect it.

All those things are okay if I am an informed consumer,” Soylu said.

Be willing to set limits

Every data interaction comes down to a trade-off, whether it be for the convenience of a smart device or content tailored to our needs and interests. That means exercising restraint on the front end is the best way to stay on top of your data, according to Bryan Dennstedt, chief technology officer partner at TechCXO C-Suite.

As a consumer, you have to put a value on the information that you’re giving up and the benefit you’re receiving for it, and that’s going to be on more of an individualistic basis,” he said.

Dennstedt started his career as an HTML developer, and back then, the Internet provided an opportunity to find the best tools and services for what you wanted to do. It still does that, but consumers and companies have to apply a level of caution and selectivity we’ve not seen before, in some industries more than others. For instance, Dennstedt previously served as CTO for MDLive, a telemedicine provider where he worked to help aggregate data while respecting the personal privacy of health records.

You can’t be everywhere anymore,” Dennstedt said. “You really have to pick and choose and decide what shape you want to drive your life in and try to surround yourself with the tools that will help you do that. I think that’s a hard shift for people.”

You are still your own best advocate

Overall, privacy practices are hard to institute and enforce. Technology is changing rapidly, and it’s difficult to foresee all the issues that could arise.

What is today the norm may change tomorrow, and it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be able to protect yourself,” Soylu said. “In America, you have the right to own guns. This is the gun of tomorrow.”

Some controls are being implemented, such as GDPR in the European Union and the California Act, both of which aim to grant users more utility over their data. But for now, some vigilance will still be required from the consumer, Dennstedt said.

Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s an easy way to know other than to read through those huge, long, boring privacy policies to try and understand it,” Dennstedt said. “I do see that changing. I see the building blocks happening.”