Bowan Spanbroek
Head of Data-Driven Marketing
5 mins
Data breaches, bursting filter bubbles and the rise of data counterculture, 2019 is set to be a big year in Data.

1) Data Breaches

Data breaches have certainly been a hot topic over the past few years, and have continued to grow in number and size. Some of the more prominent data breach events include Adobe, Sony, Snapchat, Dropbox, Yahoo, Zomato and The Australian Red Cross Blood Society. According to haveibeenpwned.com, over 6 billion accounts have had some form of data leaked onto the internet since the database’s inception. As more data is getting captured on the internet to drive big data and personalisation, security and privacy are going to be an increasingly important issue.

As public awareness grows and demand for reform increases, governments are going to need to be more involved than ever, with expected growth in the number of legislations companies and government departments must adhere to. Organisations already have mandatory breach notifications, requiring any business to report even the smallest of data breaches, making it illegal to do what Google did in 2018 by hiding breaches of its Google+ user profiles. Beyond this, it is expected that there will be additions to the auditing and testing requirements of not just software systems, but also websites and any public facing data-driven experiences. 

2) Data Security Skills & Planning

Additionally, private companies will need to skill-up internally to ensure their staff are aware of the requirements of securing data correctly, and the implications of unsecured data. The types of skills required include the ability to identify sensitive data, understanding what process to go through when a breach occurs, how to properly transmit and store sensitive data and how to protect this data, if these skills don’t exist there are plenty of third-party security companies willing to help. 

Beyond staff training, it is important to ensure a plan-of-attack exists for when breaches do occur, as it the company’s responsibility to inform the public. Thankfully the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) has a useful guide on how to develop such a plan.

Here are a few things to consider to help reduce the likelihood of this happening to your organisation:

3) The Filter Bubble Bursts

From filter bubbles to fake news and echo chambers, we have well and truly reached the ethical line between algorithms providing personalised content and the realm of manipulating how we behave and make decisions, often without our conscious awareness. While the implications of this are still to be decided, it is likely this debate will heat up in 2019, and turn into a call-to-action for regulation and monitoring from both government and media bodies. 

Ever since Eli Parisers’ keynote TED talk in 2010, the concept of Filter Bubbles has been a hot topic of conversation. For those unfamiliar, filter bubbles are when a person's own beliefs and values are continually reinforced by algorithms that personalise digital content based on previous behaviour. The issue is that these algorithms only display information they know the user will engage with, and don’t display the information that may challenge their assumptions, thus reinforcing their biases. The difference between the digital filter bubble and everyday life filter bubbles like friend groups, neighbourhoods and newspapers, is that those consuming the information digitally are usually unaware they are being shown filtered results and presume the algorithm is providing unbiased information, meaning they the effects are amplified.

In 2017 the Filter Bubble debate came to a head with many thought leaders inferring it was behind the growing divide between the Liberals and the Republicans in the United States and some even going so far as to say it affected the US election and Brexit outcomes. If 2017 was the year of the filter bubble, then 2019 could be the year it bursts with a new counterculture on the rise.

4) The Data Counterculture

This grassroots movement is focused on stopping technology companies from tracking personal data for profit and without transparency. In this movement, everyday people are contributing by changing their digital diet, removing interaction with companies who store and use their data from their digital lives, in preference of new digital platforms that don’t track or store user behaviour.

The poster child for this movement has to be duckduckgo, the encrypted search engine that commits to never tracking search behaviour or providing personalised search results in the name of free, unbiased information. Growing to almost 32 million searches a day, there are numbers to show support for this search engine is increasing, and there is an increasing appetite to move away from the major technology players. 

The true effect of this movement is still in its early stages - will it be a blip on Google & Facebook's radar, or a tangible, competitive threat? What’s clear is consumers are waking up to the value of their data and starting to hold companies accountable to their side of the bargain. Provide transparency and value in exchange for user data, or risk being held accountable. 

The real threat in 2019 for data-driven technology companies is the push for algorithmic transparency. US watchdogs are already calling for it, and industry thought leaders such as Scott Galloway have been demanding government oversight for years (beyond just data breaches). Expect there to be more pressure on big tech to become transparent about how they serve, track, store and share customer data in 2019.