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We Need To Set The Bar Higher On Privacy

NEWS / 05.16.18 / John Chen

The inevitable implications of a data-driven economy are right in front of us and we now stand before a moral, ethical and public policy crossroads.

Recent events, where mass privacy breaches have occurred, have raised public awareness of the pitfalls of big data and the elevation of profit over privacy by some corporate actors.

As a consequence, public authorities are now demanding more comprehensive answers from big tech, and a healthy public policy discussion has finally begun.

Many have rightly observed that data is becoming a powerful economic engine in an increasingly digitized world. Data is now a highly sought-after commodity, and many big tech companies have built their business models on monetizing data.

With artificial intelligence on the verge of becoming the next force in big data, everyone should be concerned about what some have called “surveillance capitalism.”

One only has to consider the future implications for fin tech, health care, autonomous vehicles and how we will build smart cities. Should we allow corporate interests to monetize personal data and dictate the rules of the game?

The implications are not just economic but also sociological and political, potentially undermining the democratic principles upon which modern societies operate. As we have seen, digital platforms can be used for nefarious purposes. The use of automated algorithms makes monitoring potential abuse even more challenging to those charged with oversight.

How we collectively decide what the rules of the game for this new data-driven economy is, I would argue, one of the most important issues facing global policymakers today.

At the core of these considerations is the fundamental issue of data ownership. Who owns and controls data, for what purpose and to what end is it being employed?

As a CEO of a company that made security and privacy not only a priority but a core element and value proposition of its business, I feel we have a collective responsibility to tackle this issue.

At BlackBerry, our mission is to protect data, not to exploit it. It is my strong belief that every individual should own their own data. It should be yours, and yours only.

Data protection and security should be paramount. Privacy should be embedded by design in the development of products and services. This is what we do – and beyond – as a global company.

There are important global governance elements to data protection. Do we need global rules regulating the trade of data? With the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the European Union has just set a new regulatory standard for customer privacy. Increasingly, regulatory frameworks based on privacy – what experts call data realms – are creating different playing fields.

We should aim at setting the bar high, abide by strong data protection principles and welcome responsible and balanced regulatory enforcement mechanisms that permit consumers to take advantage of cutting edge technologies. As we move forward, national governments should reinforce existing privacy regimes with appropriate enforcement mechanisms.

In Canada, where the privacy regime is already strong under PIPEDA, there might be scope to give the Privacy Commissioner more power to protect consumer data from potential abuse. The GDPR, which makes it easier for individuals not just to provide, but also to withdraw their consent from companies to use their data, should also be the new standard.

Now is the time for a robust discussion between policymakers and the tech sector about how much regulatory oversight is needed both to protect privacy and to spur innovation and competition. At BlackBerry, we will continue making privacy a core value of our company, our products and our services.

John Chen

About John Chen

John Chen is Executive Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of BlackBerry. Appointed in November 2013, John led BlackBerry’s turnaround stabilizing the company’s financial position, ensuring its viability, and pivoting its operations from consumer hardware to enterprise software. Today the company takes advantage of the current growth opportunities in IoT and Cybersecurity and is pioneering the convergence of these two markets.

John is a distinguished business leader and proven turnaround executive with over 40 years of engineering and management experience. Prior to joining BlackBerry, John served as Chairman and CEO of Sybase Inc. where he re-invented the company and achieved 55 consecutive quarters of profitability during his 15-year tenure.

Recognized as a thought leader and as a respected voice in foreign policy, John has testified before Congress on U.S.–China trade relations and was appointed by U.S. President George W. Bush to serve on the President's Export Council. In 2006, he was appointed co-chair of the Secure Borders and Open Doors Advisory Committee. Additionally, John chaired the U.S.-China Policy Advisory Roundtable for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), served on the Board of the National Committee on U.S. China Relations since 2012, and has been a member of the Committee of 100 since 1997 and its Chairman from 2009-2011.

John graduated magna cum laude from Brown University with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and a master's in electrical engineering from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). John has an honorary professorship from Shanghai University, and honorary doctorates from San Jose State University, City University of Hong Kong, and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. John has received awards from the U.S.-Asia Institute, the U.S.-China Policy Foundation, the California-Asia Business Council, and the U.S.-Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce Education Foundation.

John served on the Board of Directors for The Walt Disney Company (2004-2019) and Wells Fargo & Co. (2006-2018) and as a trustee of Caltech (2008-2022). John is an Advisory Board member of the US Chamber China Center. He is also active in the not-for-profit community, and is a board member of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, member of CFR, national trustee of The First Tee and Governor of the San Francisco Symphony.