Don't let data protection hinder living

Smart systems have led to an increased application of data analytics in everyday life.

This raises the question: Are we concerned that our data is being collected, and should we be doing anything about it?

The importance of data protection should never be an afterthought. However, it should not hinder rational living for three reasons.

First, when individuals choose to provide personal data, the exercise of choice is not merely about privacy being lost to businesses for a financial motive ("Don't just click 'agree' if you value privacy"; last Saturday).

To live rationally, individuals inevitably weigh other concerns. These include practicality, convenience, and self-interest. For instance, they may consider that the convenience of using WhatsApp messaging outweighs the costs of finding another widely used platform.

Second, one has to appreciate that data analytics are also aimed at enhancing the user experience.

While the ultimate goal of businesses is to engineer a user-friendly interface with the most targeted advertisements being brought to users' attention, individuals also gain from a constant streamlining of content.

Finally, when businesses make a request for personal data, they are bound by the rules laid down by the regulatory authorities.

In Singapore, the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) is empowered by the Personal Data Protection Act to enforce laws against businesses that overstep the boundaries.

The PDPC has made available a slew of guidelines aimed at regulating various sectors and industries of Singapore.

It is, no doubt, in the best position to determine if any shrink-wrap or click-wrap conditions are legally enforceable here. Enforcement decisions have also been made against errant businesses.

Every individual who hopes to actively participate in this new age must be aware of the value of privacy. Businesses must also understand the actual costs attributed to the loss of individual privacy before drafting policies.

Only then can decision-making be truly informed on both sides.

Bruno Poh Teck Boon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2016, with the headline 'Don't let data protection hinder living'. Print Edition | Subscribe