Online Privacy… It’s Your Right and Responsibility

Habib Mahakian, Senior Director & Regional General Manager - Gulf & Pakistan at EMC
Habib Mahakian, Senior Director & Regional General Manager – Gulf & Pakistan at EMC

The world we inhabit today is all about being connected. The Internet of Things is here and we have to keep pace with it. To this end, we at EMC undertook a Privacy Index study in the Gulf region.The results were surprising and revealing. The study covered the responses of 1000 consumers in UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It was very important for us to address future privacy concerns.

I found it interesting that the results differed, depending on the persona that consumers use. For example, the consumer who wants it all is paradoxical. They want to retain full privacy online and yet experience convenience, which, in my opinion, is not currently possible. Another example is where people share their credit card information online without thinking about protection and the resulting damage. Here is where the trade-off between security and convenience is a very tough balancing act.

I believe, the main threat to online privacy in the GCC arises from a lack of awareness of one’s rights and best practices. This region is very Internet-active but not as highly concerned with online privacy as we see in other countries at the moment. There’s a growing need for better information about data protection, security and privacy, especially due to our increasing reliance on cloud computing. Governments in the Gulf need to continue the drive to enhance their citizens’ privacy protection by putting together tougher laws and regulations on services which host personal data all while simultaneously educating the public on known threats, best practices, and their protected rights.

As the study showed, people often don’t even take basic precautions like changing their passwords. When people lose their mobile phones, their worry is focused on the loss of their contacts, pictures and messages while they should be equally worried about the sensitive data like addresses, credit card statements and medical information on their phone.

One of the solutions that will effectively address this problem is a public-private partnership. We, at EMC are leading the change with initiatives like the EMC Privacy Index, but I’d like to point out here that this must function as a joint responsibility for maximum impact. Our efforts are aimed at slowly bringing in the whole region on a consistent level of information and education. This way, we can ensure that as technology matures so will the means of safeguarding privacy.

Of course, we can’t possibly offer the same template as a solution to all countries or regions. Each user region has its unique problems and online behaviour patterns and threats. Although, what we do have as a common factor, is education. All partners should embrace the idea of more shared best-practices and education, whatever may be the particular solution for that region.

My concern is that business, especially financial services, is the most sensitive sector when it comes to consumer data protection and privacy. Imagine, massive amounts of data of large scale organisations, floating around, without adequate privacy safeguards – the result could be catastrophic if it falls into the wrong hands! Social media is another soft target where people over-share their sensitive data without even using basic safeguards like strong or regularly changed passwords. We’ve learnt that currently only 57% consumers believe that the government would protect their privacy. This is slightly worrisome, given that the per capita internet penetration in this region is one of the highest in the world and is growing at a rapid pace.

In conclusion, I’d like to say that the key word here is education. Governments will continue to protect the rights of consumers through newer privacy laws. Through public and private partnership, we have to create a safer online environment without completely diluting user convenience in our region and while it’s a tough balance to achieve, it’s certainly possible.

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