Data Privacy & Security Learn how to correctly analyse this topic.

Sarah Simon

13 min Read Time | August 10th 2021

Key takeaways

1

Concentrate on the impact and consequences of violations of customer privacy, and if significant, on data security (i.e., document the outcomes and impacts, not just the event).

2

Focus: The topic addresses the voluntary collection, retention, and use of sensitive, confidential, and/or proprietary customer or user data. It includes social issues from selling data to other companies for targeted advertisements and other means.

3

Secondary: Do not report privacy or data breaches that have not touched thousands of persons - unless the depth of the impact has been significant (i.e., victims have suffered serious financial losses, lost their jobs, or seen their reputation and social life seriously harmed, etc.) and its persistence (i.e., if the company has a poor track record).

Executive Summary

Core point: Discuss the importance of customer privacy and what impact this has on society when privacy is breached. Assess the impact of the intentional sharing of personal data of companies’ customers. The sharing does not need to violate laws or terms and conditions, but it should be addressed if it does.

Discuss How many customers' data was voluntarily shared to establish the scale, what type of information was shared, and how sensitive was it to disclose the issue and value of the impact, and describe and quantify the social harm caused.

Secondary point: If very significant, discuss data breaches and similar cybersecurity issues: history of breaches, a significant number of users' data leaked, compromise of financial information, negligence, and oversight from the company's part.

Only report massive data breaches or privacy breaches. No breach means no impact. Therefore, you should avoid writing an analysis just on the strength or weakness of the data protection measures or policy of a company.

Do not discuss one-off events, nor should you discuss breaches where there is no direct impact from leaking customers' data.

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What is it?

Companies find significant value in collecting, sharing, and using data about customers. Personal data can be misused if not kept confidential, in ways such as harassment, defrauding, unwanted advertising, and limiting people’s ability to express themselves. Data privacy governs how data is handled, data security protects data from being stolen by external parties.

Data privacy or information privacy is a branch of data security concerned with the proper handling of data – consent, notice, and regulatory obligations. More specifically, practical data privacy concerns often revolve around: Whether or how data is shared with third parties.”

As companies and individuals increasingly adopt digital technologies, companies have to manage two conflicting priorities.

On the one hand, companies use customer data to innovate and provide customers with new products and services, generate revenues, personalise targeted advertising and marketing, and can use this data to better understand and meet their consumers' needs.

On the other hand, many people have privacy concerns "associated with companies having access to a wide range of customer data, such as personal, demographic, content, and behavioral data. [...] The delivery of cloud-based software and IT services also raises concerns about potential access to user data by governments that may use it to limit the freedoms of citizens.”

The recent increase in privacy concerns is not only related to limiting peoples' freedom, but the selling and sharing of data without their full understanding can create concerns over confidentiality and violation of their private interests. There are also major risks with the rise in data breaches, leading to possible monetary loss and identity theft.

“A data breach is the intentional or unintentional release of secure or private/confidential information to an untrusted environment.”

Sources

https://www.sasb.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/SASB_Software-IT_Brief.pdf
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_breach#:~:text=A%20data%20breach%20is%20the
https://www.statista.com/statistics/273550/data-breaches-recorded-in-the-united-states-by-number-of-breaches-and-records-exposed/
https://www.wired.com/amp-stories/cambridge-analytica-explainer/
https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2020/12/14/the-rising-concern-around-consumer-data-and-privacy/?sh=68b74b70487e
https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/risk-and-resilience/our-insights/the-consumer-data-opportunity-and-the-privacy-imperative
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SDG Choice

Most used SDGs include:

✅ SDG 3

✅ SDG 9

✅ SDG 16

But other SDG might be relevant depending on the impact


This article, about cybersecurity, can help you identify the correct SDG for your analysis.

Impact assessment

While researching and writing this topic, keep in mind the Logical Model to differentiate between input, activities, output, outcome, and impact.

Introduction

The analysis should focus on the voluntary sharing of customer information, what kind of data is being collected and shared, and how this impacts the customers.

  • The introduction should provide more information about how privacy breaches contribute negatively to society and its impact. This will help the reader make an educated assumption about the impact the company has.

  • It should assess the amount of personal data sharing that happens, along with the consequences of it.

  • The focus should be on how this impacts customers - not how it may impact business or profit, although these things can be included as a motive for sharing personal information.


Read more on how to build a strong introduction in this article.

Core Analysis

  • The core analysis needs to address how much data is collected from customers (and sometimes employees), and whether it is sold to third parties, or if third parties have access to it.

  • The number of customers should be stated, and whether this is a systematic process they do with all customers, or whether specific ventures with portions of their customer base’s data are compromising privacy (or both).

  • It is important to address what kind of information is being collected and distributed - whether it is financial data, data on activities, etc.

  • You should also explain what kind of third parties are getting access to the information, and what they might do with it, and how this might affect the customers involved.

Focus: voluntary selling and sharing of users' data

  • The introduction should provide more information about how data tracking contributes negatively to society and its impact. This will help the reader make an educated assumption about the impact the company has.

  • Note that an infringement or breach of contract/Terms & Conditions is not always necessary to analyze the impact of the company’s actions, products, services, or policies. You can still measure the impact of Facebook and the likes, who sometimes abuse their users' privacy by using the information they held on them without their full understanding of its use.

  • In your analysis, try to go beyond reporting the voluntary selling of data and measure the social impact it has had on individuals. You can use studies as proxies. Learn more in the article Step 5: Assess scale and value.


Secondary: Significant data breaches

  • The introduction should provide more information about how data breaches contribute negatively to society and its impact. This will help the reader make an educated assumption about the impact the company has.

  • Beyond negatively impacting the company, data breaches and cybersecurity attacks have short and long-term consequences on employees/clients/consumers’ lives. They can result in identity theft, fraudulent credit card activity, and emotional challenges such as stress on a more interpersonal level.

  • In your analysis, try to go beyond reporting the data breach(es) and measure the social impact it has had on individuals. You can use studies as proxies. Learn more in the article Step 5: Assess scale and value.

An analysis of one specific breach (data breach or privacy breach) takes the risk of being anecdotal. We do not want to report every single breach that a company has faced. This kind of event is only useful if it serves to illustrate a broader issue, e.g., a history of repeated dishonest behaviour, neglect, and lack of regulation from the company to many of its clients/employees/users.

Unless the breach and underlying wrongdoing are so significant that it would in itself justify a dedicated analysis, you should broaden the impact analysis to the larger issue, not just the specific breach. Read more here on finding the right granularity level.


For both topics, make sure to describe the scale of the impact by taking into account:

The impact is not just the number of people affected, but how they were impacted. It is not because the data of, for instance, one million people have been exposed that the impact is necessarily significant. An analysis can discuss a case concerning a few hundred/thousand people if there is a tangible outcome. The impact is considered significant when this number of people (few thousand) have been victims of monetary losses, identity theft, etc., and this has been quantified.

1/ The breadth of the impact

  • Is the impact local, national, or global?

  • How many people are affected? Thousands? Millions? Billions?

2/ The depth of the impact

  • Is the life of people concerned deeply affected, or does the issue just marginally impact them?

  • Are the changes brought by the issue profoundly changing society?

3/ The persistence of the impact

  • How long would the impact described last for? Months? Years? Decades?

  • How reversible is the impact described in the impact analysis? Can it be easily stopped/extended?

You can also use studies on the impact of data privacy as proxies. Learn more in the article Step 5: Assess scale and value.

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