Tips and Perspective From the Front Lines of Digital Privacy

How can businesses respect user privacy and survive in the digital world? In the latest episode of the GoodTech vidcast, we had the pleasure of speaking with Hanna Kjellman – Privacy and Legal Officer at Zynapp, as well as Writer and Host of the Swedish podcast Privacypodden. Read a recap of our conversation below, or watch the recording on our YouTube channel to hear her tips and perspective from the frontlines of digital privacy. 

The day-to-day life as a Privacy Professional

Hanna Kjellman first got into the privacy realm when she started studying law at University, which then turned into pursuing a career as a lawyer. She tells us it wasn’t until around 2014 that she realized that data protection regulation was going to be huge, and something she felt she needed to put more energy into.

“I started following the legislative process and tried to keep myself updated. When the legislation was done in 2016 we had a team at my job that worked non-stop with GDPR,” Hanna says.

Hanna explains that a day-to-day life as a privacy professional consists of negotiating agreements, and making sure that you’re always up to par with everything needed to be.

“When I started working at Zynapp, a colleague told me: ‘At this company we believe that GDPR is a great first step, but we want to be beyond that.’ That attracted me to the company. I think it’s a good thing – especially at a company where you process a lot of sensitive personal data – that you take on that responsibility in a good way,” Hanna says.

Aside from her work at Zynapp, Hanna also runs a podcast called Privacypodden, with co-host Didrik Värmon. Hanna and Didrik realized that there wasn’t a Swedish podcast market specifically for privacy. So, they decided to create a podcast that was accessible for the non-converted, general public, to spread awareness around privacy. They’ve done episodes on various topics such as the ethics of posting photos of your children online, what your privacy on Tinder looks like, and an analysis of the #MeToo movement. The podcast has a diverse audience of listeners and is receiving great feedback.

Personal data as a currency

On many platforms today, personal data has become currency. To be able to access websites such as Facebook, you pay the price of your personal data. According to Hanna, this is problematic, but she also has what she calls a liberal point of view in that regard.

“If you know what you’re consenting to, and if it’s not about creating a profile on you, or tracking your every move online, or giving away very sensitive data, or if it’s about children … Everyone has to be able to do what they want out of free will, if they’re informed and consenting adults,” Hanna says.

At the same time, you have to think about why a platform is free, Hannah points out. If you’re using something for free it’s important that you take a look at the terms and conditions. How is the company making money?

Facebook, for example, makes their money from selling ads. When you use the service, you pay by letting them profile you. What does that lead to?

“Every site that has a Facebook tracking pixel on them, which is a lot of sites that you visit, will let Facebook know that you visited that site,” Hanna explains. “They can make assumptions of who you are as a person, what you’re interested in, and thereby sell your data to marketers who can target you for online advertising. I don’t think most people that use Facebook or Google are aware of exactly what they’re paying for the ‘free’ service.”

How businesses can be successful without compromising user privacy

So what is there to do, for a business that wants to grow and become successful, but wants to respect the right to privacy in the process?

Hanna sets out to put the record straight: If you’re a European citizen, privacy is a human right. Companies that get access to people’s correspondence have a responsibility when it comes to human rights. Sometimes companies either don’t know or don’t care that the processing that they conduct is a complete violation of human rights.

As a 30 year old woman, Hanna gets a lot of ads on diapers and pregnancy tests. She says, “I don’t have children, I don’t need to get ads for baby food. They’re just trying to figure me out, and sometimes that can be insulting as well.”

She adds, “As long as they [companies] keep making these huge profits by actually violating the legislation, I don’t think anything will change other than surface level.”

Even though Hanna is sceptical that the Big Tech companies will come around, she is optimistic about the alternatives there are for companies that actually care about digital privacy. She exclaims that it’s all about making a choice. As a company, you don’t need to choose the ad tech model – collecting personal data to use and sell to advertises. Going in a different direction might be more difficult, but it’s not impossible. 

Hanna gives us some tips on what we can do as companies, while keeping our privacy intact. She suggests moving to services as Brave, Ecosia, DuckDuckGo, Zynapp, and Idka, for a more safe way to share and search. Another important tip is for companies to be transparent and vocal about what they do, what they don’t do, and why.

The future of digital privacy

Hanna dreams of a more ethical future ahead – where the whole ad tech model is done away with, and an ad exchange service takes its place. This service would allow you to sign up as a consumer and provide information about your favorite brands. The advertiser would pay the exchange to get your personal data, and you’d then get to choose if you want to receive emails with offers on products you actually want to buy.

In cases where personal data is being collected, Hanna believes that the law will have to be enforced, leading to the ad-based model ceasing to work the way it does today. The fact that people don’t know how their data is being processed is illegal, she asserts, and therefore change is inevitable.

“I think people are starting to figure out the whole ad tech model, how it works and how you’re not getting any of the multi billion dollars that the industry is generating. I think more people are getting sick of that, and don’t think that it’s fair. Just wait a few years and I think the ad tech model will have to change, and building your company on a digitally sustainable foundation will pay off,” Hanna says.

We sure hope so, too! 

Watch GoodTech LIVE every other Thursday at 6pmCET, or watch the recordings of previous episodes on our YouTube channel.