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Data Ownership and Privacy in the IoT Era: Empowering Consumers in the Digital World

By Abhishek Agarwal, President, Judge India & Global Delivery, The Judge Group

With rampant digitization in every field, data is the lifeblood, shaping our economy and impacting every facet of our lives, and the ownership and protection of personal data are the keystones of individual privacy and autonomy in an increasingly interconnected world. IoT has ushered in a new era of technological marvels, transforming the way we live, work, and interact with our surroundings. From smart home automation to medical monitoring or assisting in precision farming, billions of interconnected devices constantly generate vast streams of data. However, as we revel in this technological revolution, the question of data ownership and privacy looms large on the horizon.

In the IoT era, data has become an undisputable currency, generating valuable insights into customer behaviour, market trends, and operational efficiency. While this wealth of data holds the promise of improving products and services, it also casts a shadow of uncertainty regarding its collection, usage, and sharing.

Who owns the Data?

Data ownership is often marred within a complex web of legal intricacies. For example, device manufacturers may stake a claim to the data generated by their products. In other cases, the user of the device may assert their ownership. Furthermore, data may be collected and processed by third-party service providers, adding another layer of complexity to the ownership question.

This year in August, the Indian Parliament passed the Digital Personal Data Protection Act 2023 which is the first cross-sectoral law on personal, data protection in India. However, the absence of clear data ownership laws in the IoT era can lead to a plethora of issues. Consumers may find themselves in the dark about who owns their data and how it is employed. This lack of transparency can result in data being utilized for purposes consumers did not consent to, or even for purposes they deem objectionable.

Data Privacy in the IoT Era

Beyond data ownership, the IoT raises concerns about data privacy. IoT devices often gather sensitive information about users, such as their location, health data, and financial information, rendering this data susceptible to hacking and other cyber threats.

Even without breaches, there is a persistent risk of data being misused or shared without the user’s consent. In India, it has been seen across sectors how businesses have engaged in selling consumer data to third-party advertisers or data brokers. This opens the door to unwanted advertisements targeting consumers or the development of products and services that run counter to consumer interests.

Empowering Consumers in the Digital World

One of the objectives of Digital India’s campaign has been to increase awareness of data ownership and privacy amongst Indian consumers. However, we still have a long way to go on this. As digitization percolates down in every field, consumers must find ways to safeguard their information. The following tips would be helpful.

  • Before purchasing an IoT device, consumers should carefully read the device’s terms of service and privacy policy to comprehend what data is being collected and how it is being used. Additionally, consumers should stay vigilant about the data practices of any third-party service providers associated with the device.
  • Strong passwords are the first line of defense. Given the vulnerability of IoT devices to cyberattacks, it is crucial to use robust passwords and enable two-factor authentication to enhance protection.
  • Regular software updates include security patches that help shield IoT devices from cyber threats. It is imperative to install these updates promptly.
  • Consumers should be cautious and should only share data with apps and services they trust and those with transparent data collection and privacy practices.

Businesses, on the other hand, can empower consumers by ensuring transparency in data usage, obtaining explicit consent, implementing robust security measures, granting user data control, and allowing consumers to make choices about data usage. These actions promote trust, privacy, and data ownership for consumers in the digital age.

This year, IBM released a report that stated that the global average cost of a data breach in 2023 was $ 4.45 million, a 15% increase over the past 3 years. Such statistics have encouraged businesses and governments to take steps to safeguard their data ownership and privacy rights. As we grow our reliance on the digital world, consumers must take appropriate steps to be aware of their rights and take measures to protect their data, while businesses and governments must prioritize consumer data protection and respect privacy rights.

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