Americans are worried about their data privacy. Even before the start of the pandemic, consumer confidence in data privacy was at an all-time low. A Pew Research Center survey from June of 2019 found that 70% of Americans believed their personal information had become less secure than it used to be over the last five years. The pandemic has only made things worse; fully 78% of Americans today are either concerned or very concerned about their data privacy.
Americans are right to be wary. In our data-driven age, where almost everything from work to entertainment leaves a digital footprint, our privacy has never been more exposed. To combat this trend and build trust now when it’s needed most, organizational leaders in both the private and public sectors must make data privacy a priority.
Our data is an incredibly valuable asset. Good data can power everything from lucrative marketing strategies and personalized advertisements to effective pandemic protocols and contact tracing. And with the coronavirus rapidly accelerating a shift to digital platforms across industries, data is only growing in importance and value.
The problem, however, is that data is more than just a commodity or a resource. Data is information, and information is personal. When our data is collected, shared and sold, our personal identities are on the line. While our data-driven environment promises enormous rewards for businesses and government, it requires ordinary citizens to accept an alarming degree of online exposure; someone’s personal account is hacked every 39 seconds, and 45% of Americans have been the victim of a data breach in the last five years.
For many Americans, the trade-off is no longer acceptable. Eighty-one percent of American consumers say the risks of data collection outweigh the benefits, and they are making purchasing decisions that reflect this attitude; in a recent Pew survey, 52% of Americans said they have decided against using a business or service because of privacy concerns. Increasingly, consumers want businesses and government to take action to protect their privacy; most consumers don’t trust that businesses are doing enough, and 73% of Americans want Congress to implement stricter data privacy regulations.
Leaders in business and government have to follow these cues or risk losing the trust and support of their customers and constituents. Individuals can and should take action to protect their privacy, but the demand that businesses and government do more cannot go unheard. Now is the time for businesses, government and individuals to create a security-focused culture together. Data privacy must become a shared priority.
For business leaders, that means building transparency about their data collection and security practices into their business model. In the past, businesses could rely on boilerplate language and minimal regulatory compliance to pass muster. But today, American consumers want to know how their data is being collected and protected. Businesses have always known they have an obligation to tailor their products and services to best fit consumers’ wants and needs. Sufficient data privacy is now a part of that obligation. Business leaders must view themselves as partners in a shared project of creating a secure data environment for concerned consumers, and data security must be front and center of every data-driven business.
For government leaders, it’s time to enact the data privacy legislation that empowers American citizens to take back control of their data. For too long, Americans have lacked a clear regulatory framework for protecting their data rights. Americans deserve control over who can collect their data and who can keep it. It’s up to Congress to make this data autonomy part of the new normal.
Data privacy can no longer be an afterthought. Americans are beginning to realize that significant privacy protections are essential to a functioning digital economy. Going forward, it’s incumbent on every business and government organization that handles personal data to afford Americans the protections they need. The cost of doing otherwise is a data vulnerability that ordinary citizens are no willing to accept.
Tom Kelly is president and CEO of IDX, a Portland, Oregon-based provider of identity protection and privacy services such as IDX Privacy. He is a Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur and an expert in cybersecurity technologies.