5 lessons that all businesses can learn from the latest data scandals

Vikram Mengi
5 lessons that all businesses can learn from the latest data scandals

Trust is the glue that binds companies and communities together

Going from social media glory to digital mess, Facebook’s recent fall from grace demonstrates some of the reasons big data companies are vulnerable to breaches. Facebook’s data scandal involved the leak of some 50 million user accounts by consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, which mined the data to garner insights for political purposes. This exemplifies the need for tighter corporate policies and security measures to be in place, as well as accountability and absolute transparency.

But there are both positive and negative lessons that all companies, regardless of type and size can learn from the fiasco. Here are five of them.

1. Big Data and related technologies hold immense power

While the Facebook episode was unfortunate and damaging to unsuspecting users, it has clearly demonstrated the immense power of Big Data technologies and what is possible when massive amounts of data is ethically aggregated, correlated and mined to reveal deep insights hidden within the treasure trove of user behavior data; the operative word here being, ‘ethically’.

The sheer efficiency of Big Data technologies to gain insight into an individual user’s unuttered needs, preferences, aversions and even future inclinations based on collective data signals has been made apparent through this incident. Companies now has a tremendous opportunity, and the responsibility, to ethically apply these technologies to better engage their customers and provide individually customized products and services. They need to do this at the right price, at the most appropriate time and through the most relevant distribution channel. If this is done in a transparent and user-focused fashion, data savvy companies would have acquired customers for life.

2. We need policies and safeguards in monitoring the movement of personal data

In the wake of this saga, there have been renewed calls for social media and internet companies to relook into how they handle, protect and control the types of access that other applications and services have to their consumer data, how that data is shared as well. Facebook has introduced a feature that lets users remove third-party applications like Cambridge Analytica’s (in)famous ‘thisisyourdigitallife’. This is a step in the right direction as it shows their intent to give control of consumer data back to them.

Companies should implement sound policies, as well as put in place both physical and digital systems to regulate and monitor the movement of customers’ personal data. Documents that are dispatched electronically which contain users’ personal data – identification, mobile and credit card numbers and personal addresses – should be encrypted to restrict access by third parties.

Large internet companies dealing with large amounts of public data will need to re-assess how they are managing the data and ensure adequate fine-grain data protection measures are in place.

3. Accountability and transparency in situations concerning breaches

In addition to having sound data protection policies and practices in place, companies should make the effort to translate such words into action. This can be achieved by making the necessary investments in its security infrastructure and conducting regular audits to ensure that any policies in place governing data privacy are enforced throughout the organization.

Also read: Good data protection policies enhance trust in HR consultancy

Companies will also need to implement checks and balances to ensure that third parties accessing the data do not manipulate it and jeopardize data privacy. By implementing measures like redacting key bits of data, and advanced data cell level security, companies can successfully negate a data breach.

4. A holistic security strategy

For companies dealing with big data, technology can play a part in safeguarding their data. There are numerous solutions that companies can employ to protect their data and prevent unauthorized access. Protocols like two factor authentication to control the access, and advanced firewalls to keep out hackers are just some of the ways that companies can protect their data. However, technology isn’t the only component of a robust security strategy.

Employee education can help as well. A survey by consulting firm EY found that insider breach ranked as one of the highest risk areas, and is also recognized as the fastest growing threat to data. Companies can take efforts to inculcate good data practices among their employees and employ a series of protocols to be adhered to when handling such data. Measures like these are key to building trust between consumers and these companies that handle large swathes of their data.

5. Be forthcoming in your communication

Trust is the glue that binds companies and communities together. As a rule of thumb, and instead of sharing just the plain facts with netizens and the media, companies can offer timely, pertinent information by communicating their future intentions with audiences in the event of an unfortunate, unprecedented incident like a data breach. Doing so helps to protect a company’s image so that it is seen as credible, thereby mitigating the damage.

Moving forward, companies should aim to tell audiences how they plan to address the issue at hand to prevent future incidences, the types of measures to put in place, and the possibilities of future lapses – so online users are protected from misuse of data.

Looking ahead

The recent data scandal will fundamentally change the way people view such companies and their data collection and or protection policies. This incident has shed light into one way in which consumer data is used, and the general public is more aware of the kind of effects it can have and the gains that their data can be used for. With impending regulation like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation that will harmonize data privacy laws across the EU, and also affect companies outside of the EU that handle the data of consumers in the region, companies here should seek to use that as a means to ensure compliance with data regulations, or even as a basis to develop their own policies.

In the digital age, data has become the new oil and it is a known fact that it can be monetized for greater value to internet companies, but also greater convenience, better products and services for consumers. However, the onus is still on these companies to operate on ethical grounds and not abuse the trust their consumers have placed with them.

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