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What does data privacy mean in 2020?

Vaibhav Odhekar, Co-founder and COO, POKKT, writes how respecting users and their data will go a long way towards earning trust and building lasting business relationships

Vaibhav Odhekar

During Mark Zuckerberg’s hearing before the United States Senate, the billionaire founder of Facebook, the world’s largest social media platform, had this to say about data misuse: “I’m Sorry.”

Today’s world is highly interconnected. Global brands have local recognition. Personal and business relationships have blossomed across borders. People—and brands—know more about each other than ever before. But, in an era where oversharing is a default position for many people, and where service personalisation is premised on access to extensive user data, it’s hard to identify exactly where to draw the line. What does data privacy mean in 2020?

Not too much, not too little, but just right: user data balancing act

Google recently announced that it would phase out third-party cookies. This represents a major change in the way that brands collect user data—and how it will be associated with individual users. The move away from third-party cookies has necessitated brands to look elsewhere—especially in terms of opt-in approaches to user data collection. Opt-in approaches, such as those used in freemium games and mobile applications, provide businesses with a non-intrusive, consent-based means to collecting valuable user data. As both vendors and lawmakers increasingly restrict the means by which businesses collect user data, securing user consent becomes a key step.

One challenge here, though, is ensuring that users are adequately aware about what they are consenting to. The controversy around the popular FaceApp photo editing tool is a case in point. The Russia-based developer of the app was seen as not having been transparent enough about where user data—including private pictures of users—was going and who it would be accessible to, resulting in a backlash. Businesses need to identify a sustainable median that balances user privacy and consent with collecting enough actionable information.

GDPR and an evolving legal scenario

The EU’s landmark GDPR data privacy legislation has had a profound impact on how businesses are approaching data privacy. The GDPR affects both EU-based businesses and international organisations with business interests in the region, a much larger subset. User consent, privacy, and data security are the key underpinnings of the GDPR. As the world’s most comprehensive and powerful data privacy legislation, the GDPR is likely to become the standard against which national data protection laws in countries across the world will be based on. Legislators are already talking about data protection in countries like India and the United States.

It is very likely that this decade will see the implementation of stronger data privacy and protection laws across a wider jurisdiction. As the scenario evolves, businesses need to stay a step ahead to ensure ongoing compliance and minimise the costs of modifying processes. One way to do this is to by working top-down: realign the objectives of any business processes that involve collecting or processing user data with consent, moderation, and transparency where possible.

AI and the rise of inference

Over the next decade, AI and machine learning solutions are set to experience immense growth in terms of their scope and capabilities. One emerging use case for AI is user data inference. Advanced AI solutions can collate disparate user datasets and infer actionable insights about user preferences—gender, income levels, geography, and more—without personally identifying individual users. AI-based inference neatly addresses the challenges around user data collection: disconnected, low quality data can be transformed into high quality, actionable insights with a high degree of reliability.


Today, we are still very much in the Wild West of data privacy. While certain regions are evolving stronger legislation, the rapid development of new technologies and new paradigms means that no one truly has a clear idea of what data privacy means. In this scenario, it’s imperative for businesses to adapt their data policies to closely align them with the ideals of consent, respect, and reasonableness. These aren’t just moral imperatives: data breaches, privacy violations like the Cambridge Analytica debacle, and reports about industry data practices have had a profound impact on how customers perceive businesses. Respecting users and respecting their data will go a long way towards earning trust and building lasting business relationships.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of and we do not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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