Wednesday 27 October 2021

‘Bahrain businesses lax about customer data privacy’

MANAMA, September 22, 2021

Abdulaziz Khattak
Businesses in Bahrain need to pull up their socks if they are to be considered digitally safe.
Lack of adherence to customer data protection policies amid a widespread use of third-party trackers render them vulnerable to breaches.
A region-wide survey revealed that although 65 per cent of businesses in Bahrain had well-defined and documented policies for customer data privacy, a mere 7 per cent strictly applied them. This was a matter of concern considering 96 per cent of businesses in the country used third-party trackers and ad-platforms, writes Abdulaziz Khattak.
According to Hyther Nizam, President-MEA, Zoho Corp, which commissioned the survey and was carried out by Centurion Consulting: “This rampant use of third-party trackers in the business space has severe ethical and privacy implications because of the enormous amounts of customer data being gathered through them.”
He pointed out that most businesses used the same set of third-party trackers, which meant the large corporates behind these trackers could combine data collected across different websites and build comprehensive individual profiles for hyper-targeted advertising. “We call this practice adjunct surveillance.”
A key finding from the survey was that companies assumed data collection tools would as a matter of course abide by strict legal laws and standards and, therefore, customer data was safe.
They supposed that the bigger the tracking company, the lesser the chance of information misuse. This is despite several large vendors being recently fined for violating privacy laws in other nations.  
Data protection in Bahrain is currently governed by the Personal Data Protection Law (No 30 of 2018). Penalties for violation can go up to a maximum of BHD 20,000 in fines and imprisonment of one year.
According to the survey, 36 per cent businesses did, however, express concern at the way their customer data was being used by third-party vendors, but added they couldn’t stop using them because they ad revenue and insights on customer behaviour were generated through these platforms and that these offered the most cost-effective way to do business.
A surprising reveal in the survey was the fact that only 18 per cent of the respondents were fully acquainted with regional data protection laws. Interestingly, these are companies with over 100 employees.
However, respondents that had their businesses online or were engaged in e-commerce activities that involved payment gateway integration were well aware of the data privacy policies because integration approval could not be gained without them.
The sad part is that even most internet users don’t know how much data these trackers are gathering, and what is happening with their data.
However, as consumers become increasingly conscious of their privacy online and more countries implement stringent laws to protect consumer data and privacy, these businesses will have to to rethink their reliance on third-party platforms in the long-run in order to stay relevant, and gain the trust of their users.
Zoho’s study surveyed 1,000 respondents in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt to gather insight on consumer data protection practices.
Some 96 per cent of the respondents said they were not clearly disclosing their use of third-party trackers on their websites to collect visitors' data.
Furthermore, 98 per cent of the respondents, mostly MSMEs, had outsourced their website management and marketing functions, and were confident that the regulatory compliances would be followed by the service providers.
In a country like Bahrain where the internet penetration rate is 99 per cent, it's clear that digital is the way forward. This renders data protection a priority. -- Tradearabia News Service


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