Each day, artificial intelligence and other innovative advanced technologies are bringing real benefits to our lives—from quicker and safer access to our mobile devices, chatbots that can predict customer service requests, to medical devices that can diagnose ailments with greater precision.
Along with these developments comes a growing global demand for better oversight over how users’ information is collected, stored, and used to train and power these innovations. Heeding the call, data protection legislation is making headway in more countries and regions: for example, Europe marked the first anniversary of the General Data Protection Regulation in May, while China entered the second year of its Cyber Security Law last month (June).
In China, for instance, technology developed by Alipay has helped millions of small business-owners obtain microloans to grow their businesses. Through their mobile phones, these entrepreneurs—ranging from shop-owners to street-side vendors—can apply for and receive approvals for loans in as little as three minutes.
We can expect ever broader adoption of such innovations due to the vast convenience and improvements that they bring. At the same time, as devices that collect and process our information become more integrated into our daily lives, companies need to implement stronger policies that ensure the security of customer data is treated with the utmost care.
Even companies with the most stringent and compliant data privacy and security policies will not be completely immune from data security breaches. With reports of security breaches and improper data collection continuing to give consumers anxiety, striking a balance between the risks and the benefits will also require a broader public dialogue that looks at the topic holistically.
Open discourse will bring new perspectives to the conversation, sourcing more creative solutions for organisations that will help them make better decisions about the data they collect. We can start by arming decision-makers with objective, well-researched information. One approach we have taken to encourage public discourse on privacy in China and globally is to commission research by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) on the topic.
Some of the results from the report challenge common misconceptions, such as those describing a more relaxed attitude to privacy in developing countries such as China. In fact, the vast majority of survey respondents who work for companies in South-East Asia and China believe data privacy is important to good corporate governance, and more so compared to respondents in other regions.
Other findings showed that executives generally believe people are willing to trade data privacy for improved services, with three out of four American executives agreeing with this sentiment, higher than the global average of about two in three. And overall, companies worldwide agree that cyber-security concerns will be the biggest driver of stronger data-protection strategies, a reflection of the fears about future security breaches.
Also forming part of this important discourse, Alibaba-formed think tank Luohan Academy this March gathered a group of privacy experts including economist and 2014 Nobel Laureate Jean Tirole, University of California, Berkeley law professor James Dempsey, and the Asian Business Law Institute’s data privacy project lead Clarisse Girot in Hangzhou.
Over the course of three days, these experts took part in extensive discussions, addressing topics such as how to better protect data without hampering innovation, the boundaries between ownership and use of data, and the relationship between data security and consumer trust. Participants also discussed the need for deeper academic research into privacy issues, as opposed to excessive reliance upon hypothetical scenarios.
At Alipay, more than one billion users around the world now rely on us and our local e-wallet partners for services from mobile payments to a growing range of lifestyle services. To instill greater awareness for protecting the privacy of our users, we must focus on our core principles. That means always putting the interests of our users first and ensuring new products or features bring real value to our users.
Trust is what will enable us to build a successful digital society for the future, and ensuring strict compliance with regulations on user data and policy will be fundamental to that shift. There is still much that needs to be done to strengthen data protection practices around the world, and to get there, we are calling on all to join this crucial discussion that will profoundly impact the future of our industry.
Nie Zhengjun is Chief Privacy Officer of Ant Financial, operator of Alipay.