How privacy tech is redefining the data economy

data privacy.jpeg

(Lianhao Qu, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: CV Madhukar, Investment Partner, Omidyar Network


As the tech reckoning continues, governments, journalists and citizens alike are sounding the alarm on the many ways technology – and our personal data – can be used for harm.

Every day, billions of people leave trails of personal information simply by engaging online. These trails, which constitute our digital identities, have become essential to our participation in the modern world. But without safeguards and privacy protections, we are vulnerable to exclusion, surveillance and control.

Rising concerns around data privacy can drive a welcome revolution in today’s data economy. Privacy-enhancing technologies and trust-first business models promise to unleash the next wave of tech innovation and deliver on the promise of the digital economy to increase opportunity for billions of people around the world.

Privacy laws around the world

Image: Termly

As more people demand privacy and control over their identity data, a new wave of businesses are rethinking the way their products are designed and brought to market. These trust-first businesses and technologies are innovating to meet customer expectations and provide #GoodID protections in the digital age – disrupting the data economy and delivering better outcomes for businesses and communities alike.

What is the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact summit?

It’s an annual meeting featuring top examples of public-private cooperation and Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies being used to develop the sustainable development agenda.

It runs alongside the United Nations General Assembly, which this year features a one-day climate summit. This is timely given rising public fears – and citizen action – over weather conditions, pollution, ocean health and dwindling wildlife. It also reflects the understanding of the growing business case for action.

The UN’s Strategic Development Goals and the Paris Agreement provide the architecture for resolving many of these challenges. But to achieve this, we need to change the patterns of production, operation and consumption.

The World Economic Forum’s work is key, with the summit offering the opportunity to debate, discuss and engage on these issues at a global policy level.

Privacy tech has tremendous potential to create pathways to Good ID around the world. Omidyar Network recently invested in Cambridge Blockchain to support a “know your customer” (KYC) platform with privacy-enhancing technology. These transformative due-diligence models are streamlining identity checks for banks and creating pathways for more people to join the formal economy with control over how their data is used.

We’ve also recently invested in Terbium Labs, a data security firm that helps companies detect when personal data has been breached or trafficked on the Internet, including the dark web or social media. Their unique solution enables them to search for breaches without needing access to personal data – enabling both the company and customer data to remain private and secure.

These solutions all have one thing in common: they are rooted in privacy-enhancing practices, protections and designs – or what we like to call #GoodID.

What is the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact summit?

It’s an annual meeting featuring top examples of public-private cooperation and Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies being used to develop the sustainable development agenda.

It runs alongside the United Nations General Assembly, which this year features a one-day climate summit. This is timely given rising public fears – and citizen action – over weather conditions, pollution, ocean health and dwindling wildlife. It also reflects the understanding of the growing business case for action.

The UN’s Strategic Development Goals and the Paris Agreement provide the architecture for resolving many of these challenges. But to achieve this, we need to change the patterns of production, operation and consumption.

The World Economic Forum’s work is key, with the summit offering the opportunity to debate, discuss and engage on these issues at a global policy level.

Four guiding principles form the foundation of a powerful privacy-tech movement that’s transforming the way data is collected and used to help people transact with trust:

  • Design with people in mind. To unlock the power of identity, we must invest in businesses and technologies that put people first. Companies that will succeed in the next tech wave understand customers’ needs and expectations, and work proactively to minimize potential harms from their products and services. This means privacy by design, prioritizing data integrity and developing technologies in line with the highest safety and security standards.
  • Design for trust and accountability. Transacting with trust requires businesses be transparent about their data practices and hold themselves accountable to people above all else. This means being open about their values and policies, and explaining them clearly to customers. To earn people’s trust, tech companies must proactively disclose how data is collected and used, and limit the amount of personal data they collect.
  • Aim for better social outcomes. The privacy tech movement is about delivering products and services that benefit the people who use them. Data is incredibly valuable, and businesses must think about the impact their actions will have on society more broadly. Today’s businesses must create services and solutions that are fair and inclusive, and that ultimately deliver better outcomes for society.
  • Achieve sustainable growth. To deliver on the promise of the data economy, companies must proactively build trust with their customers – going beyond just adherence to regulations to deliver the products and services people deserve. By investing in these safeguards, trust-led technologies can ultimately build deeper relationships with their customers and drive growth for businesses and people alike.

Now is the time to redefine the incentive systems in our data economy and invest in trust-first technologies and business models that put people’s privacy first. If implemented effectively, these privacy-enhancing solutions can help communities engage more fully and fearlessly in the modern world and realize the full value of the growing digital economy.

Today, it is no longer enough to develop “tech for good”. All of us deserve “tech that is good”. This week at the Sustainable Development Impact Summit, we have a powerful opportunity to put privacy at the top of the agenda and band together to support “tech that is good” for everyone.

We have a real opportunity to create a race to the top. By doing so, we can usher in the next wave of tech innovation and help billions of people unlock a trustworthy, sustainable digital economy that delivers on the promise of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

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