The commercial pressure is huge to take the easy option in the digital economy; to seek (un)informed consent to use personal data and meta-data from a populace that is not as tech savvy as engineers or as data savvy as business development managers. Everyone else does it, so why not us?

This event: Privacy: The Competitive Advantage on April 29 outlines an alternative path to travel: but the short answer is this – do we want to contribute to a digital society where trade in our personal data is the norm? Is this the digital society we want to leave behind for our children? My answer is no.

But we have to be realistic – there are two tsunamis of pressure that make it difficult to stand against this sort of way of commercialisation of online engagement. The first is that the need for economic growth puts societal and individual rights under pressure – this is as true for the way governments operate as they seek to grow the digital economy, as it is for the individual businesses seeking online revenue growth. The law is usually insufficient to defend against this pressure because it is retrospective in the face the rapid change in technology, and its open to interpretation by those with funds to do so, and many citizens don’t have the intellectual or financial capacity to exercise their rights. Commercial and economic pressure pushes hard towards favouring the economic opportunity.

The second issue is that commercial law trumps privacy law. I don’t mean explicitly in law, I mean in terms of the easy implementation. Every director of every company has an overriding imperative to return a profit or financial return for its shareholders. In digital society personal data is often the currency traded to deliver on this imperative. The law constrains some uses of this data, but the insignificant fines and the weaknesses in the enforcements structures nationally and especially internationally, means that personal privacy has become a cost of doing digital business.

Our digital society has become slave to the commercial opportunity and we are merely participants as products to be traded, as can be seen in these mobile location tracking reports to be found at

But consumers are starting to become informed about how they are traded online and there is a growing resistance to it, as seen by the rise of messaging apps like Snapchat for the young, or ad blockers which even Apple has now embraced. It’s mostly reflected in the media as security breaches, but every breach is an information point to the consumer that their personal lives are at risk in digital society. It’s starting to create a trust issue.

There is a big change coming – the new General Data Protection Regulation is seeking to get ahead of the laws traditionally retrospective position in digital society. There are real consumer powers in it and massive fines for those businesses that do not comply.

The innovation opportunity is not just to embrace the regulation as a positive construct, its to recognise that the commercial status quo of digital engagement is about to change, and that change can be accelerated by innovators embracing the underlying principles of privacy en route to constructing a better digital society.In short, to compete on the basis of privacy value and trust in digital engagement. We can disrupt if we do this.

The only answer to the two commercial pressures outlined previously is to make privacy an asset worth as much as covert trade in our personal digital assets, or to drive new business models with different profit objectives. When that happens governments and businesses will combine to create a better digital society for our children. This is what we strive for. It’s why I am driving Privacy: The Competitive Advantage, bringing together investors, innovators and disruptors to get informed about the pivot-point of opportunity the new General Data Protection Regulation provides and to share best practice.

Hope to see you there.