Saudi Arabia among countries urging big tech to protect data privacy

Theft of personal information now accounts for 44 percent of all data breaches, according to IBM. (File/AFP)
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  • Statement’s signatories — including Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Pakistan — represent over 500m people
  • Theft of personal information now accounts for 44% of all data breaches: IBM 

LONDON: Saudi Arabia and a coalition of other countries have urged global technology companies to better protect user data, in a bid to protect users from misuse of their private information.

In a joint statement convened by the Riyadh-based Digital Cooperation Organization, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Pakistan Nigeria, Oman, and Rwanda urged global technology companies to work with governments to develop privacy and user terms that protect user data.

Combined, the statement’s signatories represent over 500 million people — the majority of them in the Middle East and Africa — and have a combined gross domestic product of nearly $2 trillion.

The statement highlighted several privacy-standards issues that need addressing, including ensuring that data is used in line with informed user consent, is not transferred to third parties that breach member-state privacy regulations, and enables users to migrate or remove their data from platforms. 

Theft of personal information now accounts for 44 percent of all data breaches, according to IBM, and this form of breach is also the costliest.

In 2021, the average data breach involving customer information cost companies $4.24 million — a 10 percent jump on 2020.

In 2019, more than 250 million Facebook accounts’ names, personal phone numbers and user IDs were revealed in an unsecured online database, and had been made available on a hackers’ forum.

In another high-profile incident, British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had harvested the data of up to 87 million Facebook users without their consent, and allegedly used it to influence elections worldwide.

DCO Secretary-General and Saudi national Deemah Al-Yahya said: “To truly realize the potential of the internet and digital technologies to improve peoples’ lives and open the doors to economic opportunity, we must strengthen trust that personal data will be protected.”

She added: “This is especially true for groups that are underrepresented in the digital economy or more vulnerable to data privacy violations.”

Al-Yahya said the best way to achieve this goal is by working with policymakers and the companies themselves to “align privacy terms and government regulations” to overcome the “emerging economic challenge” of data breaches.