Technology is a force for positive change in our lives. But the more we depend on it, the more we generate data — a lot of data.  That’s why data privacy has become such a critical issue. Increasingly, customers demand it, governments enforce it, and smart organisations build it into their strategies, processes, and products.

To find out where we stand on data privacy, Cisco conducted its 2022 Data Privacy Benchmark Study. Based on an anonymous survey of 4 900 security and IT professionals from 27 geographies, the report highlights some of the key trends and care-abouts that are emerging in the privacy space, including the impact of AI.

Among the key findings is that a full 90% of respondents now see data privacy as a business imperative. Another 90% would not buy from an organisation that does not protect data. And these concerns remained consistent across regions and cultures.

“Over the past few years, we’ve seen privacy mature and expand,” says Robert Waitman, Cisco’s director of data privacy and an author of the report. “It’s now critical for businesses because customers are driving a lot of the imperative. We’ve seen budgets expand, along with the benefits of those investments.”

These changes also reflect a shift in awareness. Data privacy is viewed as a fundamental human right by the UN, many governments, and companies like Cisco. So, the growing business imperative is increasingly infused with a higher purpose.

“When I started in privacy almost 20 years ago, it was really a brand exercise,” says Harvey Jang, Cisco’s vice-president and chief privacy officer. “You had marketing teams leading privacy. And then with GDPR [Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation], things shifted to the compliance side because companies feared getting fined 4% of revenue. Now, we’re seeing the pendulum swinging again, with privacy driven by business need and brand.”

Attitudes towards legislation also illustrate the mainstream embrace of data privacy. Fully 83% of respondents believe that data-privacy laws have a positive impact, with only 3% negative.

“That’s an unbelievably strong endorsement of the many privacy laws that have been enacted around the world,” says Waitman.

However, he was quick to add that compliance with such laws, which exist in about two-thirds of countries around the world, are increasingly viewed as table stakes.

“Customers are saying they expect companies they deal with the specify a clear privacy policy that aligns with their own, “ Waitman adds. “Customers often demand that organisations set higher standards than those specified in regulatory requirements.”


Privacy in an era of emergent technologies

Despite progress in data privacy awareness, concerns persist.

“People we surveyed don’t feel they can adequately protect their data,” says Waitman. “They feel like they do not understand, control, or manage what is happening with their data.”

Increasingly, that translates into a hesitance around new technologies.  Forty-six percent of respondents do not understand what organisations are collecting and doing with their data, and this may limit their interest in new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI). “People are reticent to engage with new technologies,” Jang adds.

Another 56% of respondents expressed concerns about how businesses are using AI today. “Respondents are concerned about how businesses may be using AI to make automated decisions that may materially impact their lives,” says Waitman.

As new technologies emerge, Cisco is considering its approach to data privacy in a way that ensures a continuous engagement with customers and their feedback.

“The applications of AI are wide-ranging, and increasingly important to our customers,” says Anurag Dhingra, Cisco vice-president and chief technology officer: collaboration. “We need to be sure that we are building systems that are fair and equitable and serve Cisco’s mission to power a secure and inclusive future for all.”

“Our teams are applying AI to solve all sorts of problems,” continued Dhingra. “Everything from managing security threats, optimising networks, and powering inclusive collaboration needs to be managed in a way that is true to Cisco’s mission.”