February 20, 2020

Addressing Data Privacy in a 5G World

New devices are being built to standards that allow more gadgets and data to connect to the the internet.

The Issue of Data Privacy is Not New, but Magnified in 5G

The issue of data privacy is not new. However, it is magnified by 5G’s potential to deliver faster, better and more interactive/immersive experiences across an increasingly wide array of device types at decreased costs. This all translates into the proliferation of more connected devices like sensors, cameras and public surfaces and the collection of more—and better—digital and physical world data. Factor in environments such as smart cities, where the range and scope of data collected can be massive, and we start to enter into the hot button issues of data privacy and surveillance capabilities. Further complicating matters is the fact that current privacy guidelines and regulations, or lack thereof, vary significantly by region, and will likely need to be revised in step with 5G rollouts and commercialization of services.

Data Privacy Issues are Front and Center

The issue of data security and privacy has been front and center for sometime now. It’s not uncommon to see daily headlines about companies big and small showing how devices and data have been breached. The impact on these companies has ranged from bad press and a renewed commitment to be more transparent to changes made to data privacy policies, lawsuits, fines and new laws and regulation in response.

Among the highest profile consumer data privacy breaches in the U.S. is the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, the scale, impact and resulting congressional hearings and testimony from corporate giants, including Facebook, Amazon, Twitter and AT&T, among others, highlighting for consumers how companies were, and still are, using their personal data.

Could the EU’s GDPR Set the Bar for Data Privacy in the US?

Creating transparency in consumer data collection and use will be paramount to building customer trust and success in the emerging 5G environment. However, privacy regulations and guidelines will vary by region, and all players must keep these things in mind as they look to monetize 5G:

  • The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which took effect in May 2018, is among the more stringent approaches to consumer digital privacy, and gives consumers more control over personal data collected by companies. GDPR does include some restrictions on the use of AI and machine learning (Article 22), aimed at preventing unfair bias or discrimination. This certainly adds some complexity for ecosystem participants. In the end, however, prioritizing how companies should handle personal data and protect customer privacy is going to remain the utmost priority.
  • The United States’ lack of federal privacy laws have resulted in states and local governments stepping in to fill the void, enacting their own policies. With politics at play around the issue of data privacy, a change in administrations may result in a shift as to what, when and how federal privacy laws will be enacted. There are signs that an EU-like policy is beginning to take hold. California’s stricter privacy legislation, which went into effect in January 2020, lets consumers restrict the sale of their personal data and limits opt-in/sharing of information in exchange for discounts and other special treatment. This fragmented approach to data privacy policy is confusing and may even end up posing more of a risk to consumers in 5G.
  • And China’s government has conflicting stances on the issue of consumer data privacy. On the one hand, the government wants the ability to access consumer and corporate data, while on the other, it is becoming increasingly concerned over the potential economic risks of data theft and hacking made worse by the lack of consumer protection laws.

Striking the Right Balance Between Innovation and Data Privacy in 5G

Data privacy is a big issue. While data privacy regulation varies by region, these rules, for the most part, focus on what data is collected and how it is used. The underlying network technology, device types and types of data that can be collected, is a lot vaguer. Because 5G will impact the types of devices and data that can be collected on consumers, we can expect that data privacy laws will evolve to support the changing services environment. A balance will have to be struck between what the technology can enable and the data privacy regulations that are in place, and it will be an iterative process. While there is a lot to say that we don’t know, we do know that as technology leads, regulation follows.  

Click here to learn about Netcracker’s 5G Monetization solution and how it brings together 5G-ready components across the customer engagement, business enablement and operations layers to launch new services. Note: Rate refers to downlink data rate. Source: International Telecommunication Union

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