#WebSummit: Companies of the Future Should Focus on Data Privacy Rather than Data Collection

New business getting set to launch have a strong opportunity to take an emphasis on allowing customers to bring their data to the company willingly, rather than insisting on owning it.

Speaking as part of the online Web Summit, the EFF’s Cindy Cohn, in conversation with David Gilbert from Vice News, said that since the launch of the EFF 30 years ago, the conversations around data and privacy ownership have changed as most people do not control their data.

“You own your data, but you don’t control it as you click it away for most of the services you use,” she said. “I like to think about controlling your data, that means we can put it beyond the scope of a simple click agreement and there are some situations where control cannot be taken from you and sometimes not at all.”

Cohn said that you need to think about the data you have and when law enforcement has it, and the EFF has set the rules on when the police have access, and now it is the time to focus on when companies have your data “as it has become something that you don’t control and is used against you.”

Asked by Gilbert what she thought about the actions of big companies that claim they have to obey the law but also protect consumers, Cohn said they could do better, but admitted they are in a difficult position. “We need to change some of the laws, and we need to change some of the ways technologies are structured and built,” she said.

In the context of the US, the EFF has been fighting the third party doctrine which stipulates that, when a consumer gives their data to a mobile phone company or ISP, “you’ve waived your constitutional protections as you’ve given them to a third party.”

Gilbert cited the GDPR as an example of how consumers in Europe have had the chance to take control of their data, and Cohn agreed that it is a good thing, although she mentioned that it does not contain anything on the law enforcement factor. “There is a broad understanding in Washington DC that this stuff matters, but the ‘what we do about it’ is widely different,” she said. “The part where everybody recognizes that we need to change is an important part, but I would say there is nothing like a widespread agreement on what needs to change.”

Asked by Gilbert about new companies starting up and the issue of data privacy and control, Cohn said there are companies emerging who have this principle “and there are fledging efforts to do this in almost everything.”

She recommended companies to “think about striking out in a different direction if they cannot compete with the big companies” as users should be able to find a way to move their data “as the general environment is getting in the way of doing this.

“If you’re a young start p now, you should really be looking for and supporting ways that people can actually bring their data to you and bring their networks to you and use your services in ways that really empower them and offer them a better choice,” she said.

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