OECD: Digital Economy Push May Disrupt Privacy

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By Rick Mitchell

July 15 — Countries have taken action to develop their digital economies but aren't doing enough to address peoples' concerns that ever more sophisticated online technologies might “disrupt” their privacy and jobs, according a July 15 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report summary.

The OECD said most countries have evolved from a narrow policy focus on information and communications technology (ICT) to digital economy policies that take a broader approach to integrating social and economic priorities.

But no OECD country has a national strategy on online privacy protection or is funding research in this area, which tends to be viewed as a matter for law enforcement authorities to handle, the OECD said.

Some two-thirds of people surveyed said they were more concerned about their online privacy than a year ago, and only a third believe private information on the Internet is secure. More than half fear monitoring by government agencies, the OECD said.

Among other things hurting user trust, the report cited the effect of leaks by Edward Snowden, a former employee of a contractor to the U.S. National Security Agency, who revealed that the NSA conducted large-scale Internet surveillance.

The report draws on surveys from most of the OECD's 34 member countries, which include the world's advanced economies, and a handful of non-OECD-member partner countries, such as Brazil, Colombia and Egypt.

Trust Is Critical 

“Things are moving very fast, with the arrival of big data analytics and the internet of things, and we must make sure we are ready for the impact this will have on digital privacy, security and trust as well as on skills and employment,” OECD Science, Technology and Innovation Director Andrew W. Wyckoff said in a statement.

“The digital economy has enormous potential for economic growth and well-being—but only if people trust it enough to fully engage,” he said.

Businesses are already taking steps to address trust issues, the report said, citing an estimate that Fortune 1,000 companies spend $2.4 billion per year on privacy programs and some are issuing transparency reports to address the “trust gap.”

The attention to data protection issues has spurred growing opportunities for skilled data security and privacy professionals, the report noted.

More Attention 

Policy makers have shown increasing interest in mandatory breach reporting for companies as well as national cybersecurity strategies and measures. They have also tried cross-border cooperation on privacy enforcement, particularly in the European Union, and courts are also paying more attention to these issues, the OECD said.

Nevertheless, additional steps are needed, in particular to supplement cybersecurity strategies with national privacy strategies to address issues in a coordinated, holistic manner, the OECD said.

In October 2014, the organization issued guidance urging policy makers to implement data privacy, legal and other protections for online consumers of digital content, taking into account today's rapidly evolving technologies.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rick Mitchell in Paris at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Donald G. Aplin at daplin@bna.com

Full text of the official summary of the report is available at http://op.bna.com/pl.nsf/r?Open=dapn-9yfpup.

The full 284-page report, “OECD Digital Economy Outlook 2015,” is available for purchase at http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/science-and-technology/oecd-digital-economy-outlook-2015_9789264232440-en.