Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at Davos
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says businesses must place greater weight on what he called “data dignity”.

Published: January 25th, 2020

The growing global concern over data privacy took centre stage this week as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella shared his thoughts on the digital economy at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

“Data, and privacy around data, is a human right that has to be protected and you have to be transparent,” he said during a presentation about unlocking inclusive economic growth and equitable globalization through technological progress.

He called on businesses to place greater weight on what he called “data dignity”.

“Data dignity goes one step further than privacy. Because data that you contribute to the world has got utility – utility for you, utility for the business that may be giving you a service in return, and the world at large. How do we account for that surplus being created around data, and who is in control around giving those rights? That’s the next level of work we all need to do where it’s not just oh, I have privacy and I just give away my data. I should be able to, in fact, control it in a much more fine-grained way how my data is being used to create both utility for me and the world and the causes I care about.”

Canada isn’t immune to the explosive growth of identifiable data making its way online.

More than 28 million Canadians were affected by a data breach, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada reported in November 2018. And while data breaches increasingly dominate news headlines, Canadians maintain the sentiment that there’s nothing they can do about it.

Ninety-two per cent of Canadians are concerned about data privacy but feel they have little to no control over how their personal information is being used by government and other organizations, revealed a survey commissioned by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada in 2019.

“I believe some of the best economics work should happen around data dignity and new business models in the 2020s will hopefully allow us to get there,” said Nadella.

He noted how it’s important to earn the trust of stakeholders and citizens by making data privacy a responsibility throughout all processes as well as systems around data management, and that it’s important for platform creators to make sure that the trust in technology is in place so that economic growth can be promoted.

“The one way we can in fact not only have lack of economic growth, we can go backwards, is if you don’t have trust in the very factor of production that’s supposed to fuel the fourth industrial revolution. So, whether it’s cyber, whether it’s privacy…AI ethics or Internet safety, these are all big topics where we will need global norms to ensure that there is trust in technology and we, as the platform creators, will have to do our part in it,” explained Nadella.

Nadella’s remarks in Davos follow similar comments by Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who was also at the forum last week.

Pichai said that privacy cannot become a “luxury good,” and that Google is using the European Union’s GDPR regulation as a template for other similar privacy laws around the world.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada