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Data Privacy Day 2022: Legislation, accountability and our duty to educate



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January 27, 2022 | 6 min read

To mark Data Privacy Day 2022, Acxiom’s chief privacy officer, Jordan Abbott, discusses the need for a US national privacy law and why it benefits people and business

I enjoy the holidays as much as anyone else, but every year I find myself looking forward to the big day a little more. I’m talking about January 28 - Data Privacy Day, of course.

Joking aside, if Thanksgiving is a time for remembering what we’re grateful for, Data Privacy Day is – for me at least – an opportunity to reflect on and consider some of the important data fundamentals, as well as how data is used.

For individuals like you and me, it’s a reminder to be more mindful of the data we create and share on a daily basis, both intentionally and unknowingly.

For businesses, it’s a reminder that behind every bit of data is a real person who deserves respect. That means we must approach every element of our data operations with what we, at Acxiom, call ethics-by-design. Before a product or service even enters design, we assess the idea itself to see if, at its core, it’s not just compliant, but is the right thing to do – for people, for business. It’s one thing to ask yourself these questions once a product is ready to go, it’s another approach to ask yourself these questions at every step of the creation and production process.

But the governance efforts of enterprises like ours are only part of the story. Shared standards are required, along with the weight of law to enforce them.

Driving toward a national data privacy law

This year on Data Privacy Day, I’ll be thinking especially about the momentum that’s been building behind the drive for a US national data privacy law.

In 2021, Virginia and Colorado followed California in signing state privacy legislation. These are positive steps toward greater control and accountability – but it’s Acxiom’s belief that what’s really needed is a holistic, nation-wide approach.

We can draw parallels with other national legislation, notably the infrastructure package recently signed into law. But, as Acxiom CEO Chad Engelgau has written, while there are provisions for traditional infrastructure like roads and bridges, there’s a conspicuous omission of infrastructure that is key to our digital future: data.

Few would argue that data is not a critical piece of infrastructure in today’s digital economy – while we often think of the internet as the road, data is most definitely the fuel, and that means everyone needs to have access to participate. Data must be protected not just from abuse but from potential problems like the concentration of ownership, or access in the hands of a few.

And yet, instead of federal legislation, we’re headed for a costly, complex patchwork of state laws that will stifle innovation and competition, while bewildering individuals who want greater control over their data.

It’s a problem that’s only going to get more challenging with time. Acxiom recently sponsored a report by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, The Economic Impact of the Market-Making Internet, which states that in the past four years, the internet economy grew seven times faster than the total US economy, and now accounts for 12% of GDP. In order to keep the flow of data through this growing ecosystem efficient, effective and safe, we have to recognize our duty to protect it.

National data privacy legislation is the natural starting point, but more needs to be done to promote the fair and responsible use of data. For example, Acxiom advocates the establishment of a national data broker registry, which would provide a centralized tool for citizens to take increased control over data held by third-party data providers.

Accountability, transparency and trust

National legislation, combined with a federal data broker registry, would go a long way in creating a culture of accountability among those who have the privilege of working with data. But I’d go further and say businesses owe a duty of education, too.

Research shows that almost half of people feel they are unable to protect their personal data, and the leading reason given is a lack of clarity from companies on how they’re using the data.

Acxiom has partnered on consumer research with industry organizations over the years and found people are more comfortable sharing personal information if they understand how the data is being used. A little education could go a long way toward improving outcomes for everybody involved.

There’s a clear lesson – if not an obligation – for brands in all this. If you want to learn more about your customers, you must earn that right – by informing them how you’ll use their data and what they will get in return.

It’s something we’ve taken to heart at Acxiom. We don’t know everything about people – no matter what extremists may have you believe. We don’t know people’s search history, their listening habits, or how many steps they took today. And in many ways that makes it more important for us to help everyone – customers and our clients – in the advertising ecosystem understand how we add value through the ethical use of data, and how seriously we take data privacy.

Working with people’s data is a great privilege, and it must be earned through responsible practices and a culture of openness and education. The passing of a national data privacy law and the creation of a national data broker registry will help to make this a reality sooner rather than later.

So as another Data Privacy Day rolls around, I’ll be taking the opportunity to be mindful of my own data this coming year. And in my professional life, I know I’ll be encouraging businesses to take every opportunity to shed light on the flow of data through our ecosystem.

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