Ages can be understood as historical periods characterised by the use of a particular resource, such as Stone, Bronze or Iron. To describe the 20th century, historians refer to the Atomic Age, the Space Age and the Information Age. Today, information is not simply collected and shared, but is being collected, mined and analysed at an unprecedented scale. Everyday an estimated 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are produced, and a staggering 90% of the world’s data was produced in the last two years alone. Whilst these numbers may seem too large to comprehend, this scale marks a new age in which our lives are firmly embedded; the Data Age.
Data or digital information is the currency of today, driving power and profit through micro-targeting, advertising and analytics. Traditional structures of power are being re-written along lines of data; some of the most powerful entities are no longer nation-states but tech giants who trade in the currency of data. However, the powerful are not simply those able to collect large amounts of data, but rather those who are able to use these vast datasets to reveal previously hidden patterns and generate meaningful information.
This year, it is estimated that 1.7MB of new data will be generated every second for every person on the planet . Our lives are spent interacting with different technologies each collecting data points used to build a picture of who we are – from the railway and tube stations we tap in and out of and the social media pages we like, to the songs we stream and the websites we visit. In this way, data can be understood as more than an abstract concept of zero and ones, but is our identity. Data captures who we are in the present, it maps who we were in a particular moment and predicts who we may become.
With this data also comes great potential. Police communities can use data on crime rates to predict where crime will occur and allocate resources more efficiently, whilst big data insights are helping to regulate energy supply by predicting peak demand. As our understanding of artificial intelligence grows, it is anticipated that we will be able to teach machines to produce more meaningful data outputs, which may help us in our search for answers to some of the most pressing global challenges we face today.
However, this drive for more data is not without its own inherent challenges. The Data Age has emerged from a largely unregulated market enabling the mass collection and use of data, yet this previously unchecked power is being met with increasing scrutiny. The last few years have been marked by a collective awakening; privacy has become the security buzzword of the moment and data protection laws have been refreshed to meet the needs of a modern world. In a world seemingly divided by the watchers (those amassing data) and the watched (the data subjects), previously ignored questions are now being asked; who is watching the watchers and how can laws keep pace with technological advancement?
Whilst intellectual debate continues around the positives, negatives and messy in-between of a data-driven world and its possible implications on humanity, for businesses, the message is clear: the businesses who will profit are not simply those who adapt to digital transformation and monetise data, but rather those who are able to do so securely. Stories of data breaches and regulatory fines continue to dominate headlines whilst public awareness of data protection concerns is increasing and tolerance for non-compliance is decreasing. It is clearer than ever that data protection must be a business priority, not simply to satisfy compliance requirements, but to enable business delivery, maintain competitiveness and enhance reputation.
When embarking on new projects, privacy must be built into the design. For any project, 6point6 recommend conducting a data protection and privacy assessment to identify the data being produced and used, who is accessing it and how it will be processed, stored, protected and destroyed. Even where a project may not use personal information, this is a useful exercise to support overall information security maturity. Knowing your data is a critical first step in finding innovative ways to use it responsibly and securely.
As we head into the new decade, we find ourselves at a crossroad. The Data Age has opened up countless opportunities for individuals, businesses and society, but as companies plan their data path, security and privacy are key to navigating this journey. At 6point6, we are uniquely placed to help companies along their digital journey, bringing together our expertise in both digital transformation and information security to support clients in a data-driven world. In increasingly crowded marketplaces, it will be those that can demonstrate how they have fostered a hybrid space for privacy and digital transformation with secure data at the heart who will attract the most business.