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The ten consumer privacy commandments your organization needs to know (Part 2)

Part 2 in our consumer privacy series with Dr. Ann Cavoukian, former Privacy Commissioner of Ontario.

Nov 4, 2020

This is the second part of a two part series exploring the importance of consumer privacy with Dr. Ann Cavoukian, former Privacy Commissioner of Ontario. To read part one, click here. 

Privacy is increasingly important to Canadians. Recent polls suggest 92% of the country are concerned about their privacy and how technology and government is encroaching on their personal information.

We caught up with Dr. Ann Cavoukian to pick her brain on the many ways that companies can do better when it comes to protecting consumer privacy. As the creator of the gold standard of privacy guidelines, known as Privacy By Design, she’s literally written the book on how organizations can take the lead on protecting consumers. What follows is the second half of Vertical City's unofficial "privacy commandments" based on our conversation with Dr. Cavoukian.

Thou Shalt Decentralize Data Collection

There’s something of a data arms-race going on right now in many industries. Businesses look at the growth and influence of digital giants like Apple, Google and Amazon and seek to emulate their data collection practices. 

Cavoukian advises against this.

“These giants collect your data in a centralized manner. That’s the problem,” she says. “You have a centralized honeypot that can be used by all kinds of third parties. You’re never going to gain control of that data once it’s out there.”

Instead, she’d like to see businesses embrace a decentralized model of data use, where they collect only what they need and don’t aggregate data sets to form comprehensive composite portraits of individual consumers.

“It’s all about putting identity information in your hands, under your control,” she says.

“That’s the world we have to move into and we’re beginning to move into that.”

Cavoukian points to recent efforts from Microsoft and IBM as proof that businesses in even the most data-intensive industries can collect and store data in a more privacy-friendly way. 

“To all the naysayers who say that ship has sailed I say to you: get another ship!” she says. “This is the new way of doing things. We can do this and that’s the way we’re going.”

Thou Shalt Transcend Legacy Systems

Businesses that use personal data today likely began the practice earlier, when the world was less digital and the average less concerned about data privacy. That means many legacy businesses systems built for collecting and using personal data are not equipped with strong privacy features. 

Cavoukian recognizes that these legacy systems can present hurdles. Her response? The best way to start doing it is to start doing it.

“I’m not going to suggest it’s easy,” she says. “You need a new design for your operations on a go-forward basis. That doesn’ mean you’re going to transform everything retroactively. Get some really good tech people who know how to do this on a go-forward basis. So at least all the new data you get will be managed in this new way. 

“Over time, this will become the new norm.” 

Thou Shalt Delete (or at Least Encrypt) Old Data

Another major source of data-risk for digital businesses is the longevity of digital information.

“Most companies keep data forever, even after its use has transpired,” says Cavoukian. 

Fortunately, this risk vector has a simple solution: just delete it.

“If you can’t delete it, at least encrypt it,” she says. “When hackers come, they’re going to look for easy targets. Encrypted data is not an easy target.

“Delete what you can and encrypt what you can’t.”

Thou Shalt Explore the Privacy Marketplace

Growing consumer concern about data privacy and high-profile data breaches have both contributed to the growth in what Cavoukian calls the privacy marketplace—organizations offering goods and services that help businesses have their cake and eat it to when it comes to consumer data.

Privacy By Design, to globally-recognized ISO designation for consumer privacy protection, is a leading example of what the privacy marketplace can offer. 

Thou Shalt Use Carrots More Than Sticks

If you’ve read this far, you may be coming around on the idea that better privacy is a win-win for businesses and consumers. You may be infused with an urge to tell your colleagues or your boss about it.

Cavoukian, who shares your evangelical zeal, says that emphasizing the benefits of embracing privacy is a much better way to bring about long-term change than scaring or threatening them.

“The ‘carrot’ is much more effective, long term,” she says. “The ‘stick’ may work in the short term but people are going to resent it. The carrot is much more effective.

“And with privacy, you can do that very effectively. Find a win-win that leads to multiple positive gains.”

Our sincere thanks to Dr. Cavoukian for her insight and wisdom. For more about privacy, make sure you check out part one of this series, as well as Vertical City's privacy page.

Part 1

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