Greater data privacy “breeds innovation,” says Ont. privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian

“It’s not this either-or situation. You can have it all”

Ann Cavoukian, Ontario Privacy Commissioner

“Privacy should be viewed as a business issue, not a compliance issue,” said Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian. (Laurelrusswurm)

According to Ann Cavoukian, Ontario’s outgoing Information and Privacy Commissioner, companies don’t just need big data—they need good data. And better privacy policies can help them innovate and compete.

Cavoukian was speaking last week at an event hosted by DNM Analytics, an Irish data analytics firm newly arrived in Toronto. She emphasized that privacy controls and innovation can coexist. “Privacy has enormous value at both the societal level and at the individual level. It forms the basis of our freedoms and allows creativity and innovation to thrive,” she said. “So my most important message is that it’s not an either/or phenomenon.”

There is growing disillusionment with big data, Cavoukian said. “Forget big data, you need good data,” she said. “You want to assure that the accuracy of your findings — the quality of your data — is sound. That’s what we’re talking about in terms of data analytics.”

Cavoukian, who is leaving her role as provincial watchdog to head the new Ryerson University Institute for Privacy and Big Data, said that privacy and big data are not a zero-sum game. “If you can embed privacy as a default setting, you’re laughing, because then you can offer your clients or customers privacy assurance,” she said, noting that some European businesses are starting to use their privacy policies as marketing tools to make inroads in areas of the economy that have traditionally been entrenched in the United States. Building privacy controls into data management systems is a core principle of Cavoukian’s much-lauded privacy by design framework.

Michael King, managing director of DNM, says the firm hopes to extend the benefits of big data analytics, traditionally the preserve of big corporations, to small- and medium-sized businesses.

READ: Stronger digital privacy laws stifle competition and don’t always help consumers: report

“Privacy should be viewed as a business issue, not a compliance issue,” Cavoukian suggested. She cited the backlash against Target as an example of the financial costs that businesses can incur because of inadequate privacy planning and protection. Consumers want businesses that perform good “data hygiene,” she said.

Cavoukian also hit out at the federal government’s Bill S-4, which critics say would allow business to share personal data without obtaining the consent of their consumers. A Macdonald-Laurier Institute report last week backed the loosening of those rules, with author Solvieg Singleton suggesting that privacy regulations can suppress competition by creating information monopolies. “It’s not this either-or proposition—privacy breeds innovation,” Cavoukian emphasized. “You can have it all.”