The high-profile data protection rules in Europe -- talked about for several years and now finally in force for a little more than a month -- could bring about some much-needed changes in privacy and data management policies, according to Cisco's top privacy official.
For a lot of companies, the European Union's much ballyhooed General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will be simply an issue of compliance, essentially making sure that they don't open themselves up to the stiff fines they could face by violating the law, Michelle Dennedy, vice president and chief privacy officer at Cisco, told Security Now in a recent interview.
However, for others, the work they did in the months leading up to the GDPR going into effect May 25 to get their data houses in order -- from determining what data they have and where it's located to putting in place new data governance procedures -- gives them the opportunity to innovate on how they manage, protect and, most important, according to Dennedy, curate the data. (See GDPR: SecurityNow's Need-to-Know Guide.)
"We have to ensure and document and fireproof even our unused data, so [with] the beginning of GDPR enforcement -- which I think is really the new era of data -- the name of the game is data curation," she said. "By valuing our data and curating it, it goes way beyond governance. We have data that can be, will be and must be curated. We've got consumers -- will they stay awake? I don't know, but today they're awake. Today they recognize that there's a lot going on with governments, there's a lot going on with businesses and, boy, there's a lot of data going everywhere."
The walk-up to GDPR
The GDPR has been a source of concern and activity for businesses since at least April 2016, when EU officials approved the regulation and gave organizations around the word two years to come into compliance. It mandates how companies handle the data they collect from customers, contractors, employees and others and, just as important, gives those people greater control over the use of their personal data. They can demand that companies show how it's being used, have to consent to that use and even that businesses delete all the data if requested.
And the penalties for violating the GDPR are high, up to $24 million or 4% of global revenues, and covers any company doing business with consumers in the EU.
This meant that companies had to know what data they had on who, where the data was located -- not an easy thing in an era of greater mobility, BYOD, the Internet of Things (IOT) and distributed environments. They had to assess everything from GDPR readiness and risk to privacy, map where the data comes from and where it goes, make plans for when an incident happens and classify the data.
Companies that have done all that work now have the chance to capitalize on it, Dennedy said.
"What I'm telling my customers is, 'Not for nothing, but you've spent the last two years doing data inventories. Don't let them get dusty. You have a data inventory, you have a map -- you have a Maurader's Map of goodness and badness -- find out where those footsteps are going,'" she said. "Suddenly you realize, how are you spending your data budget? I guarantee you're overspending. You're doing way too much data for insights, and you're not getting the insights you need because you're not curating the data."
Company executives need to understand that increasing digitization is changing the way data is used and managed and introducing employees with new skill sets who know more about data than those who came before them, according to Dennedy. Narrowing the view of GDPR will cause organizations to lose ground on their competitors. (See GDPR Compliance: Enterprises Have Two Options to Consider.)
"Some companies will simply treat it as compliance table stakes -- 'Let's get through with no fines. Let's keep our heads down. Let's buy the tennis shoes so we can outrun our buddy and not get eaten by the bear.' All that stuff," she said. "In an era of digitization and an era where our gross domestic product is increasingly digital, what is the information knowledge rate? How are we doing deals based on datasets and data capabilities? … You're talking about new tools that need to be built so you can respect borders when you need to and tear them apart when you don't. There's all sorts of cool things that can happen when you don't take a compliance view. If you do take a compliance view, I think that's adorable and we'll probably read about you after you've gone bankrupt eventually."
There is a lot of opportunity to serve a fast-changing market and innovate around data. There are "better business models than, 'You give me all your data and I get to profit off of it and you get nothing,'" Dennedy said. "There are better business models than 'Dump, dump, dump, dump data and then I'm going to surmise what I thought I knew about you anyway.'"
Data sources are going to come together and help drive such benefits as personalized medicine, and the key to that will be know where the data is, what it does and its limits are. Worrying only about compliance blocks off many of those avenues. And the world will keep moving in that direction, she noted. Frameworks similar to the GDPR are coming together in such countries as Brazil, Mexico, Canada and Japan, and eventually will make their way to the US. The EU with the GDPR is not an aberration, so businesses will want to continue in that direction.
"We're going to associate good business and good privacy together and show them how to make money, continue to stay out of jail and continue to come up with new products and services," Dennedy said. "There's always got to be some new shiny-objectness to it. That's how we keep this momentum going."
— Jeffrey Burt is a long-time tech journalist whose work has appeared in such publications as eWEEK, The Next Platform and Channelnomics.