Blog: The end of the age of data privacy


I believe that right now, in the 21st Century we are experiencing a short transitional age.  A time in which people live in an increasingly data-driven world but still selectively – and to a great extent, inconsistently – care about data privacy.  Not data security.  That’s an entirely different matter.  I mean the sharing, withholding or even considering certain kinds of (often personal) data based on arbitrary, poorly-informed and emotional reasons.

Let’s not get too far into that today though.  Perhaps that will be the subject of a future blog.  Or my PhD.  Or both.  Today, let’s consider just one of the factors that will contribute to a change in attitudes: Open Data.

Data and the Smart City

I’ve written several times on the real value that Smart Cities can deliver.  In summary, I believe that real value can only ever be achieved through significant collaboration and integration across traditional silos – be they industries; functions; Government departments or data sets.  The thing is, there are lots of barriers to those kinds of collaboration.  Commercial complications; a lack of cross-industry standards; the scale of collaborative projects versus a quick, neat little project controlled by existing structures; a lack of a strategic vision…. I could fill the page with potential reasons not to collaborate and share resources, information, and especially data.  So how do we ever get around such roadblocks?

Open Data

Governments clearly have a critical role to play in all aspects of Smart Cities, as custodians of the vision for their environment; as stimulators of innovation; as planners and coordinators of initiatives; often as funders (of course); and as eventual owners and operators of each delivered innovation.

One of the many ways that Governments can stimulate innovation is through Open Data initiatives.  Singapore is a great example.  Their Open Data portal currently provides 900 data sets on a broad range of subject areas relating to Singapore and its population.  The stated purpose of releasing these data sets is to “unlock economic value, enable quality research and deepen public participation and engagement”.  In short, anyone from a private individual to a research institute to Dell or Siemens or Teradata can access this data immediately and without formalities and do what they like with it to demonstrate new value or new opportunities for value.  This is Open Data.

Open Data Plus

Now, just think what you might be able to do by combining Open Data sets with data you and you alone have access to.  Perhaps you represent a subway train vendor with access to more detailed information about the rolling stock you provide.  Or a university with privileged access to secure Government demographic data not widely shared.  Or an analytics business with data from other clients in other territories that you have permission to reuse.  Consider the new possibilities.  New insights will give you new ways to deliver value.  New service lines.  New commercial opportunities.  All through combining readily available data with your own, more private data.

However, while this might well prove to be a very good short-to-medium-term strategy, how long can it last?  More and more data from Governments and other institutions becomes publicly available every day.  French utility giant EDF’s subsidiary Enedis have their own Open Data portal.  In January 2017, Uber launched their Open Data platform with Uber Movement, “to help urban planners make informed decisions about our cities”.

How long will you be able to hold on to commercial advantage based on private data sets when all this data sharing is happening around you?  Isn’t it time you joined the Open Data party?

Open Data First

Of course, there are data sets that will always need to remain secure.  Enedis manages critical national infrastructure.  The kind of thing that people with bad intentions sometimes try to break.  So they don’t share everything.  Banks are supposed to stop people from stealing our money.  So they don’t share everything either.  Or not intentionally, at least. Clearly, I’m not suggesting the answer to data sharing in Smart Cities is to switch off every firewall in existence.  However, there is much more data that could be shared, that would benefit society and those of us that need to turn a profit and/or keep our stakeholders happy.

To me, it seems clear that data sharing is only going to increase – and at an increasing rate too.  There is no stopping this particular data deluge.  There are benefits for every party from doing so.  And as citizens see value delivered from integrated datasets, any potentially misguided misgivings about data sharing will soon become something our kids talk about as one of those weird things that their parents cared about.  Like driving our own cars, say.

Today, many have a mindset that begins “what data could we share?”  And OK, that’s a good thing.  At least the data fortress’ door opens occasionally.  But it’s not enough.  Tomorrow we must go much further, to the point where we turn that position on its head.  We must move towards a policy of Open Data First.  In other words, a starting position – supported by robust and appropriate levels of governance – where we expect all data to be available and we make all data available, only excluding data sets that come up in answer to the new question: “what data can’t we share?”

That day is coming, whether you like it or not.  I think it’d be better to be riding that data wave, rather than be washed away by it.  What do you think?


About the author:

David Socha is Teradata’s Practice Partner for the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT).  He began his career as a hands-on electrical distribution engineer, keeping the lights on in Central Scotland, before becoming a part of ScottishPower’s electricity retail deregulation programme in the late 1990s. After a period in IT Management and Consulting roles, David joined Teradata to found their International Utilities practice, later also taking on responsibilities in Smart Cities and the wider Industrial IoT sector.


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