Written by Caitlin Ferreira

Surely you’ve heard about the changes that were recently made to WhatsApp’s privacy policy? Well, I guess that now is as good a time as ever to discuss data privacy. If you’re anything like me, it threw you into a fit of rage at the thought of your every move being monitored and tracked (ironic because I’m a marketing lecturer) that you quickly jumped straight onto WhatsApp to tell your friends just how enraged you were? The irony is not lost on me. Did I really understand what the changes were or actually take time to read through the T & C’s, well no. But I was enraged!

Data Privacy as a digital citizen | Red & Yellow

But it wasn’t just me. Millions of users around the globe indicated their dissatisfaction by ditching the platform altogether and downloading close competitors Telegram and Signal in a show of defiance. The global movement resulted in WhatsApp delaying the privacy policy update and working tirelessly to clear up confusion surrounding what the changes actually mean. Cue an educational campaign to allay fears of the proverbial big brother being able to read your messages or listen in on your phone calls. 

While the purpose of this post isn’t really about the policy changes at WhatsApp, it does raise a number of concerns around data privacy and why it’s important for both users and companies collecting and storing user data. It also just so happens that it’s Data Privacy Day on the 28th of January (we couldn’t have timed this better ourselves) so let’s use this as an opportunity to start a conversation around data privacy.

Why should users care about data privacy?

I quite like a quote from Catherine Butler, a British author who said “Privacy on the Internet? That’s an oxymoron.” And it very well might be. We may not think about this all too often, possibly because the thought could send us spiralling into a privacy frenzy, frantically trying to delete our digital footprint. But, as users of the Internet, we are creating data about ourselves on a daily basis. Every time we use our devices, our engagement with the device, platforms and applications are tracked and monitored. Everytime we use GPS to find a new location, everytime we use a Google search or login to our favourite social media platforms. So if we’re already creating this digital footprint all the time, why should we really care, after all, it’s pretty helpful when Netflix suggests a new series that it knows I’ll love, or when Google literally finishes my sentences? Well, according to the National Cyber Security Alliance

Millions of people are unaware of and uninformed about how their personal information is being used, collected or shared in our digital society. Data Privacy Day aims to inspire dialogue and empower individuals and companies to take action.”

As a user, you need to empower yourself to fully understand how your data is being stored and used. If you’re uncomfortable with the data that’s collected or how it’s used, you’re able to make an informed decision about the platforms that you want to engage with and those that you don’t. Unfortunately, this means actually looking at those T’s and C’s and working through the various privacy options on your devices. You probably wouldn’t sign a contract without reading it, without fully understanding the implications of it, so why should your interactions with online platforms/devices/companies be any different? 

Many companies are becoming more transparent about the data that they’re collecting and allowing you to turn on/off different types of tracking and monitoring. Make sure that you take some time to fully understand the privacy policy, with the knowledge that disallowing some types of data tracking may impact your experience of a platform/app. 

Why should companies care about data privacy?

Well in a nutshell, when private information gets into the wrong hands bad things can happen. Words like ‘cyber attacks’ and ‘data breach’ have just become part of the lexicon of the 21st Century. In an article written by Forbes Magazine, we can see just how often these breaches happen and how much they can cost the company involved. They can undermine business operations, expose private and confidential information about the business and its consumers and cost companies millions. 

As a company, you have a duty to protect the data that you collect and to ensure that the privacy of any confidential information is maintained. Show your customers that you care about their privacy. Research shows that more and more individuals are becoming concerned about their data privacy, so show them you’re on the same page and you’re willing to do everything in your power to safeguard their data. Ultimately, if you aren’t able to protect the privacy of your customers, they will readily find another company that will. In addition to data management impacting who is willing to engage with your company, new legislation surrounding data privacy (we all remember the numerous GDPR emails) places a number of requirements on the data management policies of companies and ensuring compliance is of the utmost importance. 

Many businesses are only seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of what their data can do for them, how it can improve their business operations and act as a competitive advantage. So make no mistake, data is a vital component of business success in the 21st century. But with great power, comes great responsibility and protecting the privacy of that data is the responsibility. 

I encourage you all, in your personal or in your professional lives, to start discussions around data privacy. Empower yourself to fully understand what data you’re happy to give away for free and draw limits where you want to protect your privacy. 

And on that note, if you’re keen to participate in some academic research examining consumer perceptions of data privacy, feel free to pop me an email at caitlin.ferreira@redandyellow.co.za. I promise, it’s all confidential.  

Just need Caitlin bio

Caitlin Ferreira is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing and the Head of Section for Undergraduate Degree Programmes at the Red & Yellow Creative School of Business. She’s an Adjunct Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Cape Town and is busy completing her PhD in Industrial Marketing at Luleå University of Technology. She is a passionate educator and spends a lot of time encouraging students to think about what marketers can do better!

If you’re interested in learning more about data and how to collect and visualise it, check out our 10 week Data Principles and Visualisation online short course.