Street corners are being fitted with cameras, shopping centres are filled with cameras. Photo: AP
CAPE TOWN – Over the past few years, The Infonomist column in Business Report has highlighted risks, opportunities associated with data and information.

Throughout this period we’ve seen data leaks, breaches, reports that highlight data abuses. At the same time, we’ve also seen data tech start-up companies becoming billion-dollar companies, illustrating the economic power of data.

In South Africa, people are noticing efforts to collect data in commercial areas, public areas and residential areas. Street corners are being fitted with cameras, shopping centres are filled with cameras.

In Europe, concerns have been raised about the abuse of personal data by corporations. This has led to the development of a legal instrument to curb the damage.

In the US, legislators are hauling technology corporations to the Senate to account for their data misdeeds.

These concerns have also been raised by the US presidential candidate, Andrew Yang, who has called for data to be a property right.

In his policy proposal he suggests that people need to have a right to be informed as to what data will be collected and how it will be used, the right to opt out of data collection or sharing, the right to be told if a website has data on you and what that data is, the right to be forgotten, to have all data related to you deleted upon request, the right to be informed if ownership of your data changes hands and the right to be informed of any data breaches including your information in a timely manner.

These are sound proposals that should form part of global data standards.

In other parts of the world politicians are taking steps to ensure that some of these standards are part of national policies. The General Data Protection Regulation is a case in point in Europe.

What is concerning, however, is that in Africa there’s little debate about issues related to data. These issues are not part of everyday conversations and yet they have a potential to significantly impact peoples lives.

The amount of data being collected locally and stored in other parts of the world is staggering. This is due to the fact that most technology products and services we use are located in other parts of the world. This is scary when one considers that the future of control will be made possible by data.

A serious conversation needs to start around what is being done about African data. There’s a need for transparency by governments, corporations about the data that is collected.

People need to know what happens to the data collected by cameras, how much money is generated by corporations who collect peoples data and with whom is the data shared.

This conversation should end with a consensus that acknowledges that the people from whom the data is collected own such data.

The power balance is skewed towards corporations and governments.

Technology companies that make collection of such data should form part of this conversation.

To facilitate these conversations in South Africa, a platform for conversations, known as The Infonomist Forum, about the impact of technology in society will be established. It will bring together users and creators of technology with the aim of creating transparency about the use of data.

In the form of live events it will also serve as a platform for a conversation about standards that should be put in place to ensure that the rights of users are not abused.

Wesley Diphoko is the editor-in-chief of The Infonomist. He also serves as the chairperson of the IEEE Open Data Initiative. You can follow him on Twitter via @Wesley Diphoko

BUSINESS REPORT