Wesley Diphoko, Head of the Independent Digital Lab (02 June 2017)
JOHANNESBURG - People across the world are concerned about frequent reports that their data has been stolen through companies that keep data as part of their business.

Millions of South Africans are currently deeply concerned after it was reported that their data was compromised.

This information was released by an Australian-based IT security researcher Troy Hunt via Twitter. He created the Have I been pwned? website as a free resource for anyone to check if they may have been put at risk due to an online account of theirs having been compromised in a data breach.

According to research conducted by IBM, the average cost of a data breach in South Africa is R32.36million, which is an increase of about 12percent since 2016. This research report also indicated that the data breaches cost companies R1632 per lost or stolen record.

In view of the impact of these data breaches, people have a valid reason to be concerned.

At the same time it is important for people to acknowledge the fact that information to some extent is out there in one way or another.

Use of social networks by people is one way in which they willingly push their data and information to the world.

It is also important for people to start taking responsibility for their own data and information.

In fact, it is high time that people take measures to protect their data and decide what to share about their data.

Based on recent data-breach developments, the use of security software is not sufficient to protect data online. More is needed to safeguard information.

In future there may be a need for individuals to hire their personal data security guards to protect their data and information online.

Although there’s a need to be cautious, there’s also a need to be balanced. The future of personal information is such that personal information will be out there for good and bad use.

This is true when one considers the field of “Distributed Trust”, which is what brought us companies such as Uber, AirBnB, Zipcar and similar entities.

All of these companies are based on the trust economy, the idea that you can rely on the services provided by people you don't know, but still use them because we trust that they will deliver.

Distributed trust would not exist if we were not willing to part with our data and information such as credit card details (for AirBnB) and our location (for Uber).

The need to be balanced about sharing our data and information will become even more important as society rewards us for access to our data and information.

The LinkedIn of the future is a great example in this regard. In a future not so far away, it will be necessary for us to share as much data and information (skills information and everything we learn information) with LinkedIn in order to get better recommendations for job and work opportunities.

To understand the future of personal data you have to consider what is happening in China.

In February, 2017 the country’s Supreme People’s Court announced that 6.15 million of its citizens had been banned from taking flights over the past four years for social misdeeds. Personal data was the basis for this decision through a system called the Sesame Credit social credit-scoring system.

This system is being developed by Ant Financial Services Group, an affiliate of the Chinese Alibaba Group. It uses data from Alibaba’s services to compile its score. The score is used to rank citizens of China based on a variety of factors like loyalty to Chinese brands based on social media interactions and online purchases.

The rewards of having a high score are easier access to loans, easier access to jobs and priority in bureaucratic paperwork.

Likewise, the immediate negative consequences for a low score, or being associated to someone with a low score, range from lower internet speeds to being denied access to job offers, loans and bureaucratic paperwork.

In 2020, this system may be mandatory for all citizens in China. Thereafter, there will be nothing stopping other countries from experimenting and implementing similar systems if they see good results.

Why does this matter economically? China’s lack of a national credit system is why the government is adamant that Citizen Scores (such as Sesame Credit) are long overdue and badly needed to fix what they refer to as a “trust deficit”.

In a poorly regulated market, the sale of counterfeit and substandard products is a massive problem.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) indicated that 63percent of all fake goods, from watches to handbags to baby food, originate from China. It has also indicated that the level of micro-corruption is enormous and therefore, if such a system results in more effective oversight and accountability, it will probably be warmly welcomed not just in China, but in other parts of the world as well.

The Infonomist has been working on a project that takes into account learning data - everything that an individual learns - books, articles and practical application of such insights through practical projects to indicate the extent to which someone is able to carry out a task.

This information tool may be useful to potential employers to base their decision to employ people not only on academic qualifications, but on overall knowledge and ability to execute.

Recent reports about data breach is likely to influence tighter measures from regulators, which may have a negative economic impact.

While it is important to apply necessary data-governance measures, it is also important to take into account the fact that we are now living in the information economy and personal information will be useful in enabling the economy to function.

As we move towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution the future of health, safety, finance and other fields are dependent on access to personal information to improve our livelihoods in the digital age.

Wesley Diphoko is head of the Independent Media Digital Lab and founder of the Kaya Labs.

- BUSINESS REPORT