The Top Five Data Stories of 2018
1. Data Breaches
Following hot on the heels of 2017, it was a case of "another day, another data breach" in 2018. Before the first week of January was over, 1.1 billion Indian citizens had their details compromised via the Aadhaar system, and on from there, Equifax, Facebook, Under Armour, Strava, Uber, FIFA, T-Mobile and bunch of airlines all filed notification of data breaches through the year. There were many more, of course, like the division of Marriott hotels, with the numbers affected totaling in the billions. In 2018, NOT having your details compromised was bucking the trend – if you didn’t, you were lucky.
Interestingly, many of these breaches were historic and going back years, rather than recent. Or in the case of Starwood, it was from four years ago and into this past summer. With the average time to discover a data breach at 160-180 days, you can expect the state regulators to start getting busy with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) early next year.
By way of an example, here is a list from August.
No need to count; there are more than one a day.
2. Artificial Intelligence
AI requires many things to work, not least of which is enormous amounts of data. No surprise then that big companies with lots of it (and lots of resources to work on it) delivered probably the most visible form of AI into our homes – the smart speaker. The next generation of this tech was demonstrated when Google publicised its Duplex chatbot that can "er" and "umm" with the best of us while booking a flight. This increasing ability to mimic humans and human intelligence is both a huge opportunity and for many, very scary. Will AI replace humans at work, or even supersede us as a species? Who knows, but in the near future it will drive our cars and cure what ails us. 2018 saw many useful applications of AI, including to trawl through vast amounts of data to spot, use and alert us of things that a human could never do.
By the middle of 2018, smart speaker penetration hit 35 percent of homes: Smart speaker ownership hits 19 percent globally, 35 percent in U.S.
3. Data Privacy and Data Protection
Last year we saw the advent of GDPR, which significantly raised the public profile of personal data, such as who collects it and how it’s used instead of just paying for a product or service. Data breaches highlighted both the issues of securing personal data and how companies hide how they use our data, or in cases such as Cambridge Analytica, misuse it. It wasn’t just GDPR though; the California Privacy Act hit the news, with growing pressure for a U.S. federal privacy law and companies such as Google and Facebook tripping over themselves to help influence it, while others such as Apple and Mircosoft followed the European Union (EU) stance of saying that privacy is a "human rights" or words to that effect.
In the wider business world, all of this new found love for privacy became a governance headache, with many companies still not confident they are GDPR compliant by the end of 2018, let alone the beginning. These stories stood out:
4. Data Influence
One extremely controversial area linked to data is that of political influence. Throughout 2018 stories have surfaced around the world that talk of voting interference driven by data and social profiling. The UK’s Brexit vote and midterm elections in the U.S. were key candidates, and both countries have strong democratic values, so we aren’t talking tin pot dictatorships where any ‘elections’ are foregone conclusions. Both the U.S. and UK governments (plus a band of other EU countries) have demanded information and appearances from Facebook with varying degrees of success.
Google, Facebook and digital platforms are trying to improve their image here, and if you’re sceptical, information governance regulators have already issued notice on companies involved and kicked off enquiries to fully understand the threat and indeed, how it has already played out.
5. Data wars
It’s fair to say you may not have seen many "data wars" headlines in 2018 (though there have been a few), but there is definitely a ‘data world war’ taking place, or as some suggest, a cold war. The players are nation states and big business, looking for economic advantage in what’s been dubbed "the fourth industrial revolution." And the weapons and battlegrounds? AI, cyber-attacks, regulation and more than a little espionage. Kasperky was thrown out by the U.S. government, with others following suit, and there has been recent stories of ‘grain of rice’ sized chips in servers that are suspected of spying, with Chinese switch manufacturers being locked out of major western economies. Cyber and ransomware attacks have been launched by rogue nations, and even traditional allies such as the U.S. and EU are at it; many commentators in the U.S. see strict EU regulations as ways to curb the power of the California tech giants. AI is a huge battleground, with China very much in the ascendance due to the infamous state gathering of personal data that is driving AI tech such as face recognition.
Much of this came to the fore in 2018, and it’s only set to heat up.