“Digital Sheep”: Risks and Opportunities of Working With Big Data Become the Topic of Discussion of the Open Innovations Forum


Who should own big data, and how to regulate the process of collecting, processing, and protecting it? The session's experts answered these questions “Digital Sheep: who qualifies for “digital wool” organized by RVC on the second day of the Open Innovations Forum. The session was moderated by Nikita Utkin, RVC Program Manager, Chairman of the Cyber-Physical Systems Technical Committee.

In the world of digital technologies, almost the main asset and driving force of development is data that comes from a variety of sources.

“If data in the analog world is transmitted the way the user wants it, but everything is more complicated when it comes to the digital world. A person comes into contact with different digital platforms at different points in time: Credit cards are used to pay for purchases, tax returns are filed electronically, and taxis are called through applications. All these leave a “digital footprint”, said Nikita Utkin at the beginning of the discussion.

Such “digital footprints” are almost impossible to destroy, says Mikhail Petrov, director of the digital transformation department of the Accounts Chamber of the Russian Federation. Much attention is paid to privacy and personal data protection; however, as soon as we turned on the phone, we immediately transferred our data, even without knowing it. At the same time, the ownership of these data, their transfer, and processing, to a large extent, remain a “gray area” that has yet to be regulated. The result is a vacuum where people are forced to rely on ethical laws, conventions, and principles rather than legal norms.

“Such experience should gradually transform into a generally accepted set of rules and regulations that will be used by the whole society”, said Mikhail Petrov.

The same actors can use data for good or bad, says World Bank consultant Andrew Stott.

“Companies can collect data to improve their products. On the other hand, they can use the same data to offer higher prices for services - which is bad. Amazon and many airlines are already doing this”, the expert said.

The current technological and legal capacity to regulate this use of data is somewhat limited, which increases the risk of fraud. An essential step in tackling this challenge was the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) adopted in 2018 in the European Union.

Any platform should not misuse data without consumers' exclusive consent, agrees Wanli Minn, Founder of North Summit Capital and QuadTalent Technology.

“The shepherd has the right to the wool of his sheep. But consumers have privacy considerations that need to be respected”, says Wanli Minn.

He noted that today only about 20% of companies fully comply with the GDPR requirements. The business has significant room to improve compliance.

James Woodheissen, a visiting professor at London South Bank University, stressed that Mark Zuckerberg could quickly turn from hero to villain using users' digital footprint. The expert drew attention to the fact that in the modern world, data use issues are relevant not only in the field of consumption but also in labor. Up to 20% of the UK workers have switched to teleworking, and this proportion is unlikely to decrease anytime soon. In such an environment, employers want to learn more about employees and determine how efficiently they use data. This trend is disturbing.

The data should belong to the person who produces them, says Alexander Kozlov, Deputy Minister of Construction and Housing and Utilities of the Russian Federation. At some point, data-driven companies “took” user data for free, accumulated it, and became successful.

“Is it correct? The people who donated the digital wool did not always understand what was happening”, the speaker noted.

In these conditions, the issue of “digital hygiene” becomes critical, which allows you to maintain security, not only virtual but also real.

The state is the largest owner of the data.

“It's important to see how well it regulates data collection — it protects the weak and constrains the strong. The state must make such rules of the game so that citizens are maximally protected. On the other hand, data should be used as efficiently as possible to allow the economy to develop, but not to the detriment of citizens' rights”, Alexander Kozlov said.

The system of measures that has developed in Russia and the established practice of working with personal data, according to the speaker, is quite useful. The process of finalizing the systems and infrastructure on which they are based continues.

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