Dispatch from the Mobile World Congress: Mobile Is the New Frontier for Privacy

My first impression of Mark Zuckerberg in the flesh is that he is permanently excited and overflowing with energy. That is hardly surprising given his age and his role in the Internet revolution. But the fact that he dropped by at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week is quite significant. The annual Mobile World Congress is a mega event with nearly 100,000 attendees and the participation of every business with an interest in anything to do with mobile communications. So the presence of Facebook's supremo at such an event confirms that the future of the Internet and its players is indeed mobile. His explanations about the efforts that Facebook is making to partner with mobile communications' providers in every corner of the planet are a glimpse into the future.

This year's Congress is also noteworthy because for the first time ever, it featured a panel session on privacy. With the title "Ensuring User-Centred Privacy in a Connected World," this session – which was cleverly masterminded by GSMA's Director of Privacy, Pat Walshe – was a unique platform to bring up the issue of privacy among an audience busy with developing and selling cool products, devices and services. From the start, the discussion focused on trust. This is by far the best way to introduce the importance of privacy to an otherwise sceptical audience. Talk about privacy in legal and compliance terms and you will get nowhere beyond a few yawns. Raise the issue of trust and you will get people's attention. Lesson #1.

Perhaps more important in practice is the fact that education, transparency and accountability, whilst necessary, are not enough. Privacy frameworks around the world are built on transparency and accountability. Being transparent about data collection and uses in the mobile space is a priority for every privacy regulator and will continue to be, so it is a challenge worth addressing from both a compliance and trust perspective. This is not easy to do in an increasingly smaller and interface-minimal environment but it should still be an area of focus for privacy pros. The same goes for accountability and, as the forthcoming EU data protection regime will confirm in due course, having the right structures in place in terms of people, policies, practical procedures, contracts and verification will become a must-have.

But the reason why this is not enough – particularly in a fast-moving and ambitious technological environment like mobile – is that privacy must be addressed much earlier in the process. As Brian Hernacki of Intel brilliantly put it, "we need platforms designed for privacy." Embedding privacy and data security considerations into the development process will be the single most important way of ensuring that data is not abused or exposed and that all of us as users of ever-present technology are effectively protected. Here is where our ability to show business leaders that privacy and data security can make a constructive contribution to innovation and development will pay off.

The presence of high profile people – from royalty to 21st century influencers – at an event like the Mobile World Congress reaffirms the role of mobile technology in taking the world forward. Even for established Internet giants like Facebook, mobile is the new frontier. For us, architects of privacy and data security in an uber-connected world, this is a test of creativity, vision and resolution. We must not be daunted by this task as the benefits will be real: truly borderless human connectivity for all delivering business innovation and protection for individuals at the same time. Mobile is definitely the new frontier for privacy.

Written By

Eduardo Ustaran, CIPP/E


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