China’s New Data Protection Policy Could Serve as a Lesson for the U.S.

China’s new Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL) was recently implemented, and the legislation will have a significant impact on private data protection, both in China and worldwide. While the law prohibits companies from collecting and employing consumer data, it doesn’t extend its reach to the government.

It’s clear that the new law will influence the future of data protection policies, but it also highlights a glaring issue for the U.S., the complete lack of a comprehensive national policy. Should the U.S. take a page out of China’s book when it comes to consumer data privacy?

It may be surprising to some, but China’s new legislation could be tied to its consumers’ sentiment on data protection. Specifically, Chinese consumers are keenly aware of the significance of their digital privacy.

I have over two decades of experience in the marketing and business development strategies industries for luxury goods and services organizations, with a focus on utilizing consumer data. What I have found is that people don’t just leave digital breadcrumbs online, they leave a literal roadmap of their lives. The plethora of consumer data at my fingerprints was one of the primary reasons I went on to co-found Hush, a comprehensive digital privacy protection solution.

My years of experience in the field lent insight into consumer sentiment over digital privacy across the globe, and interestingly enough, into how Chinese and American consumers differ.

The Chinese government is employing consumer interest to drive laws on data limitations for organizations. The new legislation is similar to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in this sense, and creates a solid framework for digital privacy regulation in the country.

In the U.S. on the other hand, a large number of consumers are much less aware of the threats of their personal data being available on the internet. This is especially true of younger generations, whose entire lives thus far are documented on social media, down to the smallest details of their days. Younger consumers are also far less skeptical of the risks of this.

China’s New Data Protection Policy Could Serve as a Lesson for the U.S.
Photo: Yuichiro Chino / Getty Images

In China and America, consumers have directly opposing beliefs when it comes to how their personal data is used. In the U.S., consumers have accepted that corporations collect and sell their personal data but believe the government should be held accountable for the data it’s collected. Ironically, China’s new PIPL law goes much further than any U.S. legislation in safeguarding the privacy of their citizens.

Now that China has enacted its PIPL law and Europe has GDPR, the U.S. is far behind these countries in establishing laws at the federal level to preserve digital privacy. While individual states have passed some of their own laws, this creates a patchwork-like framework, rather than comprehensive consumer protection. Additionally, when laws are different state-to-state, this can create more confusion for businesses that operate across the country and many loopholes for data brokers to take advantage of.

As consumers become more and more aware of their digital footprints and how personal data is being used, most of the debates around privacy center on issues such as cookie tracking, and how large corporations sell data to third party advertisers. Many bemoan targeted popup ads and see them as an invasion of privacy rather than helpful for shopping. However, this use of our data isn’t what we should consider a threat.

Many consumers aren’t attentive to the scope of their online presence, and how this creates a path for criminals right to their front door. A few statistics underscoring this issue to keep in mind:
  • Unemployment fraud has risen 3,000%
  • One in four women is stalked (half of them before reaching 25 years old)
  • Identity theft has increased 100% year over year
In the past, privacy solutions were mostly unsuccessful due to their failure to focus on the right types of data. While the primary focus has been placed on data that can be commercialized, i.e., browsing data and which sites consumers frequent the most, consumers need to turn their attention to data that can be weaponized instead.

While this sounds concerning, there are several ways that consumers can back control of their digital privacy and secure their online, and physical, presence.

One of the most crucial steps is ensuring your social media accounts are protected. Several social media platforms such as Facebook constantly change their privacy settings. Therefore, many people who thought their accounts were private could be exposing all of their personal information to anyone on the internet. More often than not, accounts that were thought to be private were exposing personal details of posts, photos and more to strangers online.

This is problematic for a number of reasons. Criminals often identify their targets first, before digging into their PII, or personal identifiable information. For this, they look to any of the 1,200 data brokers available, which compile a wide variety of information on people. This information can range from current and past addresses, names of family members such as siblings, children, or parents, and even contact details such as phone numbers and email addresses.

Once a “bad actor” has gained access to this data, their next step is to explore social media accounts. Most consumers’ give away far more details on their social media accounts than they think. Through posts and photos, people share information on types of pets and their names, the street where they grew up, their high school, or all details on their child’s class, including teacher’s name, grade, and favorite color.

Once someone has the details of your home address, they can easily look up the address on real estate websites like Redfin or Zillow. These sites are useful to look for homes on the market, or to familiarize yourself with an area and property values, but sometimes, they can be used for criminals to gain an inside look into your home, its value, photos of the interior and exterior, and floor plans.

The combination of all of these details provides a comprehensive picture of you. What’s more, it allows people to take a fairly good guess at the answers to bank security questions, including your pet’s name, the street where you grew up, or your high school mascot. With access to this information, criminals can serve as a threat to you financially and physically. Social media accounts provide a detailed look into consumers’ interests, hobbies, family lives, homes, and financial assets, all of which can be used against them.

While American consumers should still keep an eye out for how companies use their personal information, they should also take measures to protect the data they can control. It’s far easier to limit the amount of information that is shared on a Facebook profile than worry about your browsing history. It takes time and effort to tackle one’s entire digital footprint, from contacting the 1,200 data brokers in the US to requesting removal of home images from real estate sites, and there are services like Hush to help, but the easiest steps of limiting social media are also critical.

At Hush, we’ve noticed over and over again that one of the most crucial steps anyone can take in protecting their digital privacy is learning how this can pose a threat to not only one’s financial wellbeing, but one’s physical wellbeing too. Too often, consumers are hung up on the details of what corporations and tech giants have access to their data, rather than reconsidering what they’re sharing themselves. This is often the most dangerous to us, and it’s time American consumers start paying attention.
By Lynn Raynault // Seattle, WA
Lynn Raynault is the Co-Founder and President of Hush, the most comprehensive digital privacy protection, so you can keep what you love most safe from the threats of life online. Lynn has over 20 years of experience developing and delivering marketing and business development strategies for luxury goods and services organizations. Prior to Hush, Lynn was the Co-Founder and CEO of the boutique management consultants Segments of One. She is also the former CMO of Wealth-X, a global research and information services firm specializing in affluent individuals. Lynn's newest venture, Hush, is turning the Wealth-X model on its head.  She holds an MBA from Columbia Business School, and is fluent in English and French. 

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