Has the Consumer Given Up Too Much in the Name of Safety

Has the Consumer Given Up Too Much for Safety’s Sake?

November 12, 2020

Milestone Systems Vice President APAC Benjamin Low unpacks why organisations need to prioritise data protection and consumer privacy, especially as more surveillance tech is deployed to tackle the ongoing pandemic.

By Benjamin Low

Singapore’s Foreign Minister, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan has rightly defined COVID-19 as “a global threat that does not respect boundaries, political systems or economies”. Technology has undoubtedly taken a front and centre role to keep the pandemic in check, for example, with applications for safe entry or contract tracing. To soothe growing concerns about data privacy, governments have assured citizens that only the minimum and most critical data are being captured.

However, the risk of data impropriety has definitely grown. Not all organizations have put in place data protection policies and solutions needed even as they collect more data from their customers and employees – all in the name of the pandemic.

As the world deals with this growing threat, it is imperative for organisations to clearly define the role of technology in ensuring social safety, while balancing the need to protect citizen’s data privacy.

Singaporeans are beginning to come to terms with these technology safeguards. Our recent “Video technology amid COVID-19” study, found that eight in ten Singaporeans are receptive to the usage of video technology, such as thermal imagining cameras and crowd management video analytics. It also found that having knowledge of the benefits of video technology and the privacy measures being put in place are key to gaining acceptance.

But more can and should be done to explain to the public how technology is being used to support safer and smarter cities in a post-COVID-19 reality.

No herd immunity when it comes to data protection

While Singaporeans are receptive of video technologies, our study found that there is still a significant portion of the population that is unfamiliar with the purpose and benefits of such solutions. In fact, 27 percent of respondents were still sceptical and did not feel that the benefits of video technology outweigh their personal privacy needs. These respondents also felt that there are insufficient regulatory measures in place to deter abuse of video technology.

When presented with a scenario of having to pick between daily random phone calls and home visits conducted by authorities, compared to the utilisation of video cameras located in public places to detect visitors on Quarantine Order or Stay-Home Notice, 24 percent of respondents have opted for the former.

This tells us that there might be a potential loss in public support for the use of tech monitoring measures, should public trust be compromised due to negligence in ensuring data protection.

Establishing consumer trust must continue to be top-of-mind for businesses, even as video technologies and contact tracing become increasingly prevalent. This shift in consumer mindset does not give businesses a licence to misbehave. Instead, they must work together with regulatory bodies and technology partners to respect individual privacy and comply with data protection regulations.

Digital ‘Personal Protective Equipment’ for data privacy

The good news is that the use of video technology is more accepted when personally identifiable information is removed.

There is a range of solutions that will help ensure data protection requirements are met, even as these technologies become part and parcel of our daily lives. Such solutions in the market provide operators with the ability to anonymise data through privacy masking, data purging and much more.

A recent example includes Facit’s Identity Cloak function, which is fully deployable through the Milestone XProtect Platform. It offers operators a one-click auto-blurring function that protects individual identities on live CCTV.

Educating the public on these tech measures will greatly increase public confidence as most consumers are still unfamiliar with the role and implications of video technology being deployed so widely. This could be as straight forward as putting up signs to inform and assure the public that no video data would be stored, or for how long and for what purpose.

As consumers remain vigilant about how businesses are using their personal data, businesses must prioritise data protection and practice full transparency to build greater trust in technologies that keep our communities safe, be it with video solutions or other forms of technology. They will need to adapt to new consumer attitudes around safety and health, work together with regulatory bodies and technology partners to find ways to maintain individual privacy and comply with data protection regulations at the same time.

Taking a stand on the responsible use of technology

We believe video can be used as a force for good, we see it coming to the fore as major support for local businesses, governments and citizens alike in these challenging times.

Innovations in technology should be celebrated but being part of the industry means we must acknowledge our role in developing new technologies responsibly.

The Copenhagen Letter is a manifesto signed by Milestone Systems along with various entrepreneurs, designers and philosophers to call for better practices in technology and design. We have added the Copenhagen Clause to our software licensing agreements to encourage users to use them responsibly. To put our commitment to practice, any misuse of our software, in violation of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, would result in immediate violation of the license and immediate termination.

COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption and growth of video technology across industries, from entertainment and retail to transportation, and even in the public sector. We believe that leveraging these technologies offer businesses not just continuity, but a host of other benefits. However, these benefits will only be actualised when businesses prioritise data privacy and the well-being of the consumer.

(Ed. Featured image by Photographer Alina Blumberg.)

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