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Reversing data’s damaged reputation

Jonny Shipp, director of public affairs at Telefónica, explores how data’s tarnished reputation can be reversed.

Digital services, powered by data, are reshaping the world. Transport systems are being transformed, agricultural processes improved, energy use reduced and education opened up to all.

We know that digitalisation, the adoption of these data-driven services by society, is causing fundamental shifts in the relationships between businesses and their customers, and between governments and citizens. That revolution has also been proven to have a vital role in the economy. Recent reports estimate that a 10% increase in digitalisation of the global economy could increase GDP per capita growth rates by 40%.

This is an opportunity we can ill-afford to miss, so how do we make it a reality? Telefónica’s global Index on Digital Lifesuggests that factors such as digital literacy, a country’s freedom to innovate, and the extent to which citizens engage with and trust the digital world, are fundamental to achieving positive outcomes from these big changes.

The new services that will help make our world truly digital depend on the creation, collection, storage and analysis of data – including personal information – to deliver value.  More data was created globally last year than in our entire human history, and the same will be true next year. It is this trend that is fueling growth in the new, digital economy and enriching our society.

The UK startup community is developing a huge range of new businesses based on the analysis of data.

Reputation

Data can also be used as a force for broader social good, where analysis can help identify the need for critical infrastructure, or highlight priorities for disaster recovery after severe weather. And it can play an ever-greater role in medical diagnosis and treatment.

Yet, despite the fact that data has been proven to be a hugely valuable commodity and a force for good, it is gaining an unfortunate reputation with the public. Every day, people are annoyed by intrusive advertising and every week we hear news of cyber attacks and data leaks. In the wrong hands, data is used against people, organisations and countries. And with the press reports of each breech, theft or data loss, people lose confidence. And without digital confidence the potential to transform services and enrich lives is diminished.

Looking forward

Policymakers around the world are addressing the challenge of data’s damaged reputation. Daniel Zeichner MP is the chair of a new group on data analytics in the UK Parliament. He says that big data is a “complicated and controversial area, one that is only going to become more significant as time goes on for those making and influencing policy.” EU Vice-President Andrus Ansip recently said: “Europe should not be afraid of data”. They are both right. Done well, with the right intentions, with proper respect for consumers and citizens, data is a huge force for good.

To unleash the full potential of the digital economy, the world needs forward-looking, fairer public policies and a better cooperation between all stakeholders, public and private. There needs to be a unified push on transparency and showcasing the benefit. Otherwise there will always remain confusion and concern amongst the public about inconsistent practices and standards.

This must go further than just complying with legislation, going beyond it to put people in control of their data, drive a new model of data transparency and enable more data-driven services that benefit people, organisations, economy and society all over the world.

This post has originally been published on the Tech City News site.

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