There is growing evidence that the EU regulators will need to overhaul the proposed data protection reforms virtually as soon as they are passed due to the unrelenting march of new technology.
Direct and data marketers are already pulling the hair out over the current proposals, first revealed in 2011 but still plodding through the Brussels machine.
They are unlikely to be passed until December this year at the earliest and then put in place a year later, a snail-like pace which even the UK Information Commissioner Christopher Graham has said means the EU threatens “to make a fool of itself”.
Since then, technology has exploded; just one example is the inexorable rise of the smartphone app, which has seen tens of millions of consumers hand over their personal data willy-nilly just to use the app. Then there is the Internet of Things and the growth of social media.
Meanwhile, the default setting on the latest Microsoft operating system update – Windows 10 – will send Microsoft vast quantities of information on how devices are used and what consumers look at.
Within a few years, over a billion devices will have the software installed, and, given the complexity of adjusting the settings, few are likely to turn off these facilities.
To compound the issue, a recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) showed that it was possible to match individuals to anonymised credit card records using only four pieces of information.
And this does not have to be financial data either; Twitter, Instagram and Facebook may provide sufficient information. The research highlights how hard it is to make data anonymous, even where organisations work to strip it of personal information.
The head of the MIT study Yves Alexandre de Montjoye said: “We’re building this body of evidence showing how hard it actually is to anonymise large sets of data like credit cards, mobile phones, and browsing information. We really need to think about what it means to make data truly anonymous and whether it’s even possible.”
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