Where are we on Data Privacy?

Tamer Odeh, Regional Director at SentinelOne, Middle East, discusses the reality of data privacy and how to maximize privacy online.

With the debate raging over user privacy on platforms such as WhatsApp, Telegram and Facebook, this year’s World Data Privacy Day was a great opportunity to reflect on aspects of the issue that increasingly affect us all and promote privacy awareness and best practices. As digital services become inevitably linked to our daily habits, protecting our digital identities and private data should be a top priority.

With data breaches a concern for individuals as well as organizations alike, tools using deception and concealment techniques that provide early detection capabilities for data gathering activities are necessary. A 2020 report by the Ponemon Institute revealed that the average time for companies in KSA and UAE to detect data breach is 269 days. According to the report, data breaches in the two largest Middle Eastern economies cost an of $6.53 million raising the following question: can our data ever go “offline”?

The Reality: No Way to Disconnect

Today, people worldwide use the internet on a daily basis through social networks, mobile devices, and various software programs. Most users understand and accept that in order to use these free services and technologies, we have to agree to disclose private information. Social networks know our preferences by scanning the content of our emails, direct messages, and our web-history to offer us customized search results, and to improve interaction.

The different software programs will continue to gather as much information as possible about their users, simply because it helps them provide the best possible customer experience. Whether it is to sell that data or use it to enhance their understanding of user behaviour, it is all part of their business model. In some cases, it is only such data collection that enables businesses to offer their services at the price they do: often, zero. By collecting data, businesses have information to share with advertisers who look for ways to tap into their audience.

For most of us, it is either impractical or impossible to really break away from these companies; we accept their proportionate invasion of our privacy because the convenience or utility of their service offers us value. However, there needs to be some kind of regulation for the use of this data. Increasingly, people are calling for regulators to implement greater oversight to enact and enforce stronger privacy protection laws.

What Can We Do?

For many, it is not possible to completely “disconnect”, go “offline”, or stop using certain application and platforms. We accept that some degree of our privacy is forfeited in return for the benefits of the product or services we use. But there are things that we can do to reduce unnecessary exposure, like choosing the platforms, exploring privacy settings, and changing passwords.

The truth is, we have an abundance of software programs to choose from and we can check the alternatives depending on the features we value most.

The pandemic certainly enhanced the importance of taking the necessary measures to ensure data privacy and increased the benefits for businesses that adopt strong privacy measures in a COVID-impacted world. By choosing the platforms we use, being vigilant with the data we share online, and employing the robust technological tools available, we might just be able to safely go online without worrying about who has access to our data.