Robert H. Brown
Associate Vice President, Center for the Future of Work at Cognizant Technology Solutions

The Future of Data Privacy is Critical to the Future of Business Innovation

With every click and like and swipe we make online, our interests, preferences and intent are revealed. As The Police sang in the ‘80s, “every move you make” in the online world is visible to not only those we trust but also those we don’t know.

While it’s led to unfathomable innovation and wealth creation, like a supercharged second coming of the California Gold Rush, the Digital Age is the proverbial double-edged sword, and our privacy is increasingly the hilt of that sword.

After 25 years of regulatory-light experimentation with the “information superhighway,” policy makers are only now beginning to lay down some “rules of the road” pertaining to data privacy.

For business leaders in the U.K., the U.S., and around the world, the work for today and the innovative work for the future is to get the right ethics baked into new, digital models early – while there is still time.


Prepare for “The Splinternet”

Attitudes toward data privacy are splintering amongst different regions of the world.  Consider the differing responses to issues of privacy by governments around the world:

  • U.S. (in reality, California), where “Wild West” principles prevail. “Data wants to be free!” (and heaven help anyone who stands in the way of companies monetizing that). But pending legislation looms due to privacy blunders forewarning and forearming policy makers.
  • China, where “Wild East” principles prevail. The belief that central planning works is unwavering, and there’s long-game confidence in the coming of Pax Sinica in 50 years.
  • Europe, where “Middle Way” principles prevail. GDPR is entering the scene, fresh from memories of the GDR – and terror of a new terror


Innovative New Roles to Handle the New Rules

Already, roles like data protection officers (mandated by GDPR) are becoming essential to ensuring obligations to openness, fairness and transparency are attended to. We could also see innovative new jobs like personal data brokers stepping in to manage consumers’ data monetization for them and ensure they’re compensated for their data. Digital rights management technologies – flipped to consumers-as-publishers – could help keep the recipients of that data honest, and the providers of that data remunerated based on how that data is used.


The Restoration of the Sovereignty of Data Privacy: What Anglo-American Firms Can Do

Fans of Netflix’s The Crown will remember John Grigg, aka Lord Altrincham, criticizing Claire Foy’s Queen Elizabeth II for being aloof from regular people. It was an unprecedented act for its day. Yet the Queen herself was ready to listen to his innovative critiques, one-on-one, framed as “three things to start doing” and “three things to stop doing.” The scene ends with her stoically adjudging, “I’m quite sure this needed saying.” (A closing note advises viewers that almost all of his proposals were implemented and that the Palace later conceded that Lord Altrincham did as much as anyone in the 20th century to help the monarchy).

Following is your critical and succinct list of six actions – three things to start doing, and three things to stop doing – to help data privacy flourish in the digital age.



  1. Start Innovating new roles like the Chief Trust Officer at the executive level. A chief trust officer (reporting directly to the CEO and a peer to the CFO and general counsel) should work closely with data protection officers (now mandated by GDPR) to oversee privacy and customer advocacy, thus ensuring digital innovations thrive.
  2. Start promoting public policy that rewards good privacy ethics. The closer you are to the debate – even if it means squirming through testimony on Capitol Hill, Sacramento or Westminster – the more influence you can have on the future.
  3. Start ensuring privacy protection initiatives for metadata. Customers’ metadata (or “contextual data” in the PII parlance of GDPR) is a very big deal. We’re already seeing moves from players like Facebook to establish a “clear history” feature – somewhat like an angioplasty for customers’ Code Halos.



  1. Stop taking things like ethics for granted. While “move fast and break things” sounded great a few years ago, the tide has undeniably turned. The days of the “data debutantes” are over, since the consequence of betting the brand on questionable use of data is the disappearance of customers.
  2. Stop thinking of GDPR as the enemy. The absence of trust is antitrust, and your mindset needs to embrace one simple fact: Love it or hate it, GDPR regulation is your new best friend.
  3. Stop over-reacting. Course corrections and pivots on the road to the future of privacy will be natural. Capitulating from a posture of fear, and shutting down digital innovation, is the worst thing your organization could do.

While the fundamentals of these imperatives have always been with us, the future of innovation now rests on how we treat and manage data. The long view of the future of privacy is that corporate leaders, companies and countries (and not just Anglo-American ones) that do this successfully – through ethics, responsible practices and, yes, healthy regulation – will participate in a new golden age of the Code Rush.

For the full report, see “Every Move You Make: The Future of Privacy in the Age of the Algorithm”Or visit us at the Cognizant Center for the Future of Work. 

Robert Hoyle Brown is a global head of the Center of the Future of Work market strategy and outreach for business process services at Cognizant Technology Solutions. Prior to joining Cognizant, Robert served as a Managing Vice President at Gartner, both in the US and London.  In addition to his career as a strategist and research analyst, his experience has included positions at Hewlett-Packard as well as the British House of Commons.  He holds a BA in History from the University of California at Berkeley and, prior to graduation, attended the London School of Economics as a Hansard Scholar.  He currently resides in Marin County, California.