Privacy Experts discuss GDPR, its impact, and its future on Beth Kindig’s Tech Lightning Rounds Podcast

8 min read

User’s data was being compromised even before the huge Cambridge Analytica scandal was brought to light. On May 25th, 2018, when the GDPR first came into existence in the European Union for data protection and privacy, it brought in much power to individuals over their personal data and to simplify the regulatory environment for international businesses.

GDPR recently completed one year and since its inception, these have highly helped in better data privacy regulation. These privacy regulations divided companies into data processors and data controllers. Any company who has customers in the EU must comply regardless of where the company is located.

In episode 6 of Tech Lightning Rounds, Beth Kindig of Intertrust speaks to experts from three companies who have implemented GDPR.

  • Robin Andruss, the Director of Privacy at Twilio, a leader in global communications that is uniquely positioned to handle data from text messaging sent inside its applications.
  • Tomas Sander of Intertrust, the company that invented digital rights management and has been advocating for privacy for nearly 30 years.
  • Katryna Dow, CEO of Meeco, a startup that introduces the concept of data control for digital life.

Robin Andruss’ on Twilio’s stance on privacy

Twilio provides messaging, voice, and video inside mobile and web applications for nearly 40,000 companies including Uber, Lyft, Yelp, Airbnb, Salesforce and many more.

“Twilio is one of the leaders in the communications platform as a service space, where we power APIs to help telecommunication services like SMS and texting, for example. A good example is when you order a Lyft or an Uber and you’ll text with a Uber driver and you’ll notice that’s not really their phone number. So that’s an example of one of our services”, Andruss explains.

Twilio includes “binding corporate rules”, the global framework around privacy. He says, for anyone who’s been in the privacy space for a long time, they know that it’s actually very challenging to reach this standard. Organizations need to work with a law firm or consultancy to make sure they are meeting a bar of privacy and actually have their privacy regulations and obligations agreed to and approved by their lead DPA, Data Protection Authority in the EU, which in Twilio’s case is the Irish DPC.

“We treat everyone who uses Twilio services across the board the same, our corporate rules. One rule, we don’t have a different one for the US or the EU. So I’d say that they are getting GDPR level of privacy standards when you use Twilio”, Andruss said.

Talking about the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), Andruss said that it’s mostly more or less targeted towards advertising companies and companies that might sell data about individuals and make money off of it, like Intelius or Spokeo or those sort of services.

Beth asked Andruss on “how concerned the rest of us should be about data and what companies can do internally to improve privacy measures” to which he said,

“just think about, really, what you’re putting out there, and why, and this third party you’re giving your information to when you are giving it away”.

Twilio’s “no-shenanigans” and “Wear your customers’ shoes” approach to privacy

Twilio’s “No-shenigans” approach to privacy encourages employees to do the right thing for their end-users and customers. Andruss explained this with an example, “You might be in a meeting, and you can say, “Is that the right thing? Do we really wanna do that? Is that the right thing to do for our customers or is that shenanigany does it not feel right?”.

The “Wear your customers’ shoes.” approach is, when Twilio builds a product or thinks about something, they think about how to do the right thing for their customers. This builds trust within the customers that the organization really cares about privacy and wants to do the right thing while customers use Twilio’s tools and services.

Tomas Sander on privacy pre-GDPR and post-GDPR

Tomas Sander started off by explaining the basics of GDPR, what it does, and how it can help users, and so on. He also cleared a common doubt that most people have about the reach of EU’s GDPR. He said, “One of the main things that the GDPR has done is that it has an extraterritorial reach. So GDPR not only applies to European companies, but to companies worldwide if they provide goods and services to European citizens”.

GDPR has “made privacy a much more important issue for many organizations” due to which GDPR has huge fines for non-compliance and that has contributed for it to be taken seriously by companies globally. Because of data breaches, “security has become a boardroom issue for many companies. Now, privacy has also become a boardroom issue”, Sander adds.

He said that GDPR has been extremely effective in setting the privacy debate worldwide. Although it’s a regulation in Europe, it’s been extremely effective through its global impact on organizations and on thinking of policymakers, what they wanna do about privacy in their countries.

However, talking about positive impact, Sander said that data behemoths such as Google and Facebook are still collecting data from many, many different sources, aggregating it about users, and creating detailed profiles for the purpose of selling advertising, usually, so for profit. This is why the jury is still out!

“And this practice of taking all this different data, from location data to smart home data, to their social media data and so on and using them for sophisticated user profiling, that practice hasn’t recognizably changed yet”, he added.

Sander said he “recently heard data protection commissioners speak at a privacy conference in Washington, and they believe that we’re going to see some of these investigations conclude this summer. And hopefully then there’ll be some enforcement, and some of the commissioners certainly believe that there will be fines”.

Sander’s suggestion for users who are not much into tech is,  “I think people should be deeply concerned about privacy.” He said they can access your web browsing activities, your searches, location data, the data shared on social media, facial recognition from images, and also these days IoT and smart home data that give people intimate insights into what’s happening in your home.

With this data, the company can keep a tab on what you do and perhaps create a user profile. “A next step they could take is that they don’t only observe what you do and predict what the next step is you’re going to do, but they may also try to manipulate and influence what you do. And they would usually do that for profit motives, and that is certainly a major concern. So people may not even know, may not even realize, that they’re being influenced”. This is a major concern because it really questions “our individual freedom about… It really becomes about democracy”.

Sander also talked about an incident that took place in Germany where its far-right party, “Alternative For Germany”, “Alternative für Deutschland” were able to use a Facebook feature that has been created for advertisers to help it achieve the best result in the federal election for any far right-wing party in Germany after World War 2.

The feature that was being used here was a feature of “look-alike” audiences. Facebook helped this party to analyze the characteristics of the 300,000 users who had liked the “Alternative For Germany”, who had liked this party. Further, from these users, it created a “look-alike” audience of another 300,000 users that were similar in characteristics to those who had already liked this party, and then they were specifically targeting ads to this group.

Katrina Dow on getting people digitally aware

Dow thinks, “the biggest challenge right now is that people just don’t understand what goes on under the surface”. She explains how by a simple picture sharing of a child playing in a park can impact the child’s credit rating in the future.  She says, “People don’t understand the consequences of something that I do right now, that’s digital, and what it might impact some time in the future”.

She also goes on explaining how to help people make a more informed choice around the services they wanna use or argue for better rights in terms of those services, so those consequences don’t happen.

Dow also discusses one of the principles of the GDPR, which is designing privacy into the applications or websites as the foundation of the design, rather than adding privacy as an afterthought.

Beth asked if GDPR, which introduces some level of control, is effective. To which Dow replied, “It’s early days. It’s not working as intended right now.”

Dow further explained, “the biggest problem right now is the UX level is just not working. And organizations that have been smart in terms of creating enormous amounts of friction are using that to their advantage.”

“They’re legally compliant, but they have created that compliance burden to be so overwhelming, that I agree or just anything to get this screen out of the way is driving the behavior”, Dow added.

She says that a part of GDPR is privacy by design, but what we haven’t seen the surface to the UX level.

“And I think right now, it’s just so overwhelming for people to even work out,

“What’s the choice?” What are they saying yes to? What are they saying no to? So I think, the underlying components are there and from a legal framework. Now, how do we move that to what we know is the everyday use case, which is how you interact with those frameworks”, Dow further added.

To listen to this podcast and know more about this in detail, visit Beth Kindig’s official website.

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