You may recall that we made some predictions way back in January about what would happen in privacy, privacy law, and data partnerships over the course of 2019. Well, we believe in accountability, and so it’s time to check out how well we did. There’s a reason that most people don’t reflect on their New Year’s resolutions during the subsequent December but there’s also a reason most people don’t become lawyers.
PREDICTION 1: “There will be no comprehensive US Data Security Law in 2019.“
This prediction generated quite a lot of pushback from readers and even some clients. If you’ll recall, the end of 2018 was the start of the big legislative push for privacy law in the United States and seemingly everyone thought that 2019 would be the big year. We disagreed. Given the state of the parties in Congress and the growing rift between how Republicans and Democrats were responding to CCPA, it seemed like consensus wouldn’t come together.
Events have proven that to be true. Although Senate Democrats proposed a fairly comprehensive Privacy bill in November of this year, it won’t receive much scrutiny until at least early 2020, and so we can rule out any privacy law in 2019.
The most interesting (and problematic) aspect of the politics of privacy in the United States is that there is still little public demand for comprehensive legislation. Americans, by and large, say that they want privacy and don’t want to be surveilled…all while acting as though privacy makes very little difference to them at all. Scholars call this the “Privacy Paradox,” presumably because they want to characterize this behavior as insensate or contradictory. Also: academic alliteration always amuses.
But it’s only a paradox if you contend that internet users somehow know how they can better protect their privacy and simply choose not to, despite their stated desire for privacy protection. That’s, frankly, untrue: there is no empirical support for the idea that internet users are widely aware of the tools and tactics to preserve their privacy and still reject them in favor of free Candy Crush downloads. Americans want privacy and they don’t know how best to preserve it. Legislation that taps into that particular vein of public opinion is far likelier to receive support than one that, say, simply requires breach notifications or a “don’t sell my data” button.
Will we see that in 2020? Well, without spoiling our upcoming predictions post, we can say that we think it’s still unlikely. GDPR itself hasn’t really captured public attention in Europe, despite a forty-year headstart about privacy over the United States. And, given American distractions on other topics, don’t expect that gap to tighten very much in the coming year.
PREDICTION 2: “Regulators will drop the hammer.”
Outcome: Meh. Mostly correct.
2019 was supposed to be the Year That GDPR Became Real. Despite promises that there wouldn’t be any “grace period” when it came to enforcement after GDPR went into effect in May 2018, there were no multimillion Euro fines, no corporate death sentences, no fundamental change in enforcement posture. If anything, the criticism went the other way, with complaints that supervisory authorities were enforcing GDPR not with a bang but a whimper. And, as pressure to protect privacy in the United States grew, there were increasing calls for the FTC to make a splashy example out of some of the most egregious offenders in order to send a message to others in the tech and data industries.
The whimpering may have stopped in 2019, but it was hardly replaced by a roar. Yes, CNIL fined Google fifty million Euros, the ICO announced a fine for British Airways of £183 million and, somewhat more impressively, the FTC provided notice of a $5bn fine against Facebook. But….but that was really it. Those numbers, even combined, are a mere fraction of Facebook and Google’s quarterly revenues, and it took years of investigations and (in Facebook’s case) egregious misconduct to produce the fines. That’s largely why markets shrugged off the fines.
Still, these were the largest privacy/data protection fines ever issued, the first major fines issued under GDPR, and FTC’s biggest step ever in establishing parameters for data governance in the United States. That’s another way of saying “Our predictions were right, even if they weren’t right impressively.”
PREDICTION 3: “Data integration and cross-walking will make major leaps ahead.”
We feel a lot more confident claiming success for this one, even if it was kind of vague to begin with. (One tweak: our suggestion that GAMAF would create an AI/ML SaaS tool was off, but compensated for by thousands of startups and smaller companies making similar offerings.)
Our view is that the benefits of data partnerships and data integration have only just begun to become apparent to a fraction of companies, and that the potential for enormous growth is slowly coming into view. As such, we have been really excited to see (and, in some cases, work with) companies that are pulling together tools and platforms that allow for better integration of datasets.
We’ll give you an example. Crossbeam is a company that allows businesses to identify whether and how a collaboration would create new opportunities for growth and partnership. By giving two entities the chance to see how their data matches and the types of insights they generate, Crossbeam creates a chance for users to actually understand whether a partnership will provide the kind of forward-looking, data-driven knowledge that they hoped for or whether, as it happens in some cases, they’re not a match made in heaven. And, because the tool doesn’t allow either party to see the others’ data, you don’t lose valuable data without getting something in return. In essence, it’s a data escrow system that allows for meaningful assessment of the value of a potential partner.
Crossbeam is just one example in a growing field of data partnership tools that you should consider. Our prediction in January holds as true now, and will in the coming year as well. Finding the right tools to help you power data partnerships is the key to forming a cogent, profitable strategy to maximizing the value and utility of your data. It’s essential that you start the process of finding these tools and finding new partners as early as possible to give your business the best chance for success. If you don’t, you may find January 2021 coming around with a less rosy outlook for the future.