27 Jan 2020

Data ethics transforming privacy law after 'social media hangover'

Businesses urged to change privacy approach to reflect public attitude shift

Miriam Everett, Herbert Smith Freehills

“I started my career in the wasteland of being a privacy lawyer, when no one wanted to talk about data,” Herbert Smith Freehills global head of data Miriam Everett (pictured) told a conference on data privacy last week. “Today data is having its time in the sun – I’m not sure I would have anticipated that ten years ago. This is exciting and positive.”

She was speaking at the The Future of Data in Financial Services Forum: Meeting Emerging Regulatory and Ethical Standards, which took place in London on 22 January.

Everett identified the emergence of data ethics as the key driver for change.

“There is now a focus on privacy as a USP for businesses,” she said. “They are finding that ethics and trust can deliver profitability.”

In the earlier days of social media, she said, most people joined in the party leading to a “data hangover” today.

She said consumers had either lost - or were starting to lose - their trust in data privacy and were becoming more cautious in their approach to providing data.

Checks and balances

“The dial is shifting towards questions of ethics and trust,” she said. And she challenged the finance industry to reflect this shift by mirroring the “checks and balances” individuals are applying when deciding how to approach the sharing of data.

And although she acknowledged that the financial services industry had made data a priority, she said it needed to recognise that “data lineage is not static”.

She said organisations may know where the data comes from today, “but tomorrow it may be somewhere completely different”. 

“That’s the challenge,” she warned, “it isn’t just about getting it right at the beginning, it is about monitoring it.”

Other speakers included Harriet Rees, head of data science at Starling Bank, who said effective data management was a team effort.

“It is not just the data people who need to be in the room, but the legal and other teams as well,” she told the conference, which was hosted by City & Financial Global.

Artificial Intelligence

Roger Taylor, chair of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, which is due to issue a report on artificial intelligence and ethics next month, warned that financial services industry professionals “need to think through their approach to these issues before they become an issue of public concern”.

He said the centre had been established “to make sure the UK is leading the debate on how data-driven technologies are used for the maximum benefit of society”.

Mark Walmsley, chief information security office at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, warned that technology delivery was becoming increasingly challenging due to the mounting risks, including “GDPR, fines, due diligence, security and hackers”. 

He said security needed to be tested “to the ultimate degree” while businesses needed to be able to provide evidence of this process, including test results, so that if a breach did occur, they would be better able to defend their reputations.