What's up with data security revolution in the region?

What's up with data security revolution in the region?

Thursday, January 21, 2021

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Dear Editor,

The issue of data security and protection has recently made an eruption as it concerns social media giants and their quest to transform their service offerings and platforms to better serve their users — more so themselves.

Take WhatsApp as prime example. Up to January 15, it was imposing on its over two billion users new user policies which include sharing data collected to its mother company, Facebook, and affiliates, which they needed to have accepted in order to continue using the platform. This, of course, sparked much controversy globally concerning the type of data the communications giant was proposing to collect, as well as the usage of the data collected. The company has maintained that this is part of its B2B strategy (WhatsApp Business), which aims at helping micro and small enterprises to facilitate more efficient communication with their clients via the platform.

What are the implications for the Caribbean region, though, which accounts for over 22 million Internet users (2019)?

While entrepreneurship and B2B are undoubtedly a burgeoning phenomenon across the world, including in the Caribbean, how is Caricom ensuring that citizens data are protected and users of any application are not obliged to accept seemingly double-dealing user conditions? Will small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the region be guaranteed a competitive advantage, if even a benefit, from the collection and distribution of the data being targeted?

While the region boasts a model policy and some countries are making and have made efforts to pass the requisite data protection laws in their jurisdictions as seen fit, how does the region respond to overseas and external threats to such?

We must not be forgetful that, as a region, oftentimes we are exempt from several features of these applications and platforms until they have passed their Beta testing or existed for close to a year.

When one considers the European Union, for example, which is a much larger jurisdiction, owing to robust data protection laws it was exempted from this new update and, as of 2018, Facebook (as the mother company) has been unauthorised to share Europeans' information with third parties as the company's policy of collection and distribution of data was not in alignment with the terms of the EU's data protection laws (the General Data Protection Regulation [GDPR]). And they still are not!

Is Caricom prepared to take data protection across the region beyond individual member states and across borders to also reflect how its citizens are engaged online as a regional entity? How many more Caricom governments will seek to accelerate their efforts to put in place strong data mechanisms to ensure the security of Caribbean data as well as guarantee competitive advantage for its usage?

Richard Palmer

Jamaican in France


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