It’s time to get serious about user data

By Milliam Murigi
Wednesday, July 29th, 2020
Andrew Buorne, regional manager, Africa, Zoho Corporation.

ANDREW BOURNE, regional manager, Africa, Zoho Corporation, explains why protecting information shared  to companies by users is vital in this age of digital connectivity. 

Milliam Murigi @millymur1

Nowadays customers expect every company they interact with to use technology in a way that makes their lives simpler and more efficient.

Even employees expect to be able to interact with the companies in the same way they do with the products and services they use as consumers. 

However, as the use of technology becomes more prevalent in our daily lives, so do privacy concerns with regards to user data.

So grave are these concerns that Kenya signed its first Data Protection Act in November 2019. 

The purpose of the Act is to, among other things, regulate collection and processing of data in Kenya.

The Act introduced elaborate obligations to persons who collect and process data, whose infringement would lead to stiff penalties of an administrative fine of up to Sh5 million or in case of an undertaking, up to one per cent of its annual turnover of the preceding year, whichever is lower. 

However, most companies don’t know how to protect their customers’ personal data, leading to harvesting and misuse of such data by technology vendors.

“Data is priceless, and safeguarding it should be an organisation’s greatest responsibility.

It’s important to challenge any company that collects and sells user data to stop adjunct surveillance and to protect and respect customer privacy,” says Andrew Bourne, Regional Manager, Africa, Zoho Corporation. Zoho Corporation is an Indian software development company. 

Put at risk 

The organisation focuses on web-based business tools and information technology, including an office tools suite, Internet of Things management platform, and a suite of IT management software.

Bourne adds that if organisations aren’t careful with technology vendors they use, they may not only be putting their customers at risk, but also their own reputation and ultimately, their bottom line.

“It has been said that data has surpassed oil in value. For businesses that grow by exploiting consumer’s personal data, it’s gold dust.

Sure, some things can be monetised, but personal data should not be one of them,” he says. 

As organisation’s evaluate their path forward, it is critically important to step back and determine what they are giving up to rapidly stay ahead.

“From a personal perspective, it is generally understood that using Google, Facebook, and Twitter comes with a compromise.

People pay for these free services by allowing them to track their online behaviour constantly, giving up control of their data. They are, essentially, ‘surveillance companies’,” says Bourne

He reveals that majority of websites monitor customers, users, and prospective customers through cookies. Cookies are small lines of code designed to track a visitor.

Ulterior motives 

Companies pay significant amounts to access the information these cookies collect, so they can target them with advertising.

This happens secretly, and without an individual being aware their data has been packaged and distributed to other companies with ulterior motives.

“What we must recognise is that it happens not only in the Business-to-Customer (B2C) world, but it is also happening in the business-to-business (B2B) world as well.

B2B companies allow surveillance companies to track their users while on their properties. 

“Surveillance in the form of trackers can be found everywhere on B2B websites.

Common applications in today’s professional environments, all employ surveillance tools that track things such as user browsing habits,” Bourne says.

He adds that most Kenyans feel a massive disconnect between how their personal data should be treated and how it actually is.

A recent Deloitte survey indicated that 75 per cent of respondents are worried about how their personal data is being used.

“B2B companies use products and services from surveillance companies in exchange for their users’ data, but users are not informed about it.

This practice happens on websites, and it happens on mobile devices. It is everywhere,” he explains. 

He says that to ensure customer data is safe, all organisations should ask if their technology vendor is running its products on a public cloud, where they can track you or client’s behaviour or data.

“Most public cloud companies also have ad-based business units, and as we know, ads and privacy don’t mix.

To remove trackers from all ad-supported companies, have they developed tools internally? he posits.