Data Localisation in theory could help India better protect the privacy of its citizens: Kathy Bloomgarden

Economic Times Online spoke to Kathy Bloomgarden, Global CEO of Ruder Finn, on the issue of data localisation and how emerging technologies are affecting businesses worldwide. Here is the full interview-

1. At the heart of the technology debate is the question of data localisation. What’s your take on it viz-a-viz India? And how do you view this subject especially with the enormous amount of data flowing around?
Data localisation is becoming an increasingly hot-button issue around the world. As data continues to proliferate and various companies and governments vie for ownership of that data, I predict that we’ll see more and more countries propose formal legislation around data localization – and we’ll see opposition arise in equal measure. Data localisation in theory could help India better protect the privacy of its citizens and ensure that technical breakdowns overseas don’t lead to loss of critical Indian data. That said, consider the price Indian tech companies and other businesses would pay. The free flow of data is what allowed for the rise of BPO and IT companies in India, for example. Companies of all sizes would also be hit with increased storage costs – related to servers, cooling, personnel, etc. – and India as a whole would need to reexamine its digital infrastructure to ensure that it could support localisation.

2. Technology--be it voice assistant of digital assistant, AI, deep learning should be viewed as an enabler not as an act of usurpation. How do you view this especially at a time when the workforce worldwide view technology with a sense of apprehension?
Already, workers are beginning to embrace rather than fear technologies, especially AI. I predict that this trend will continue as more and more workers learn how tools like voice assistants can help them to do their jobs better and more efficiently. But as the CEO of a company with hundreds of employees worldwide, I must underscore the importance of reskilling and continuous learning. I really believe in man + machine rather than man vs. machine. We have to all work toward using new technologies and tools to better enable the jobs we do.

3. Companies and relations worldwide are being transformed on the back of technology- the humane aspect of humans is slowly eroding at a rapid pace. In your opinion, is this a worrying sign?
I would disagree with this statement and say that technology is actually making human beings more humane in many ways. Technology has changed the way that we communicate and allowed us to connect with people in more ways than ever before. As a result, it’s possible for technology to help spur empathy and create bonds between people who have never met. GoFundMe, for example, allows people to donate to causes of complete strangers. Social media is helping raise awareness for countless causes and bridge physical divides. Technology is also driving innovation in the fields of sustainability, healthcare and social impact, helping us to create solutions to extremely human problems. For example, modern technology is help scientists create mechanisms that help paralyzed people walk again. All in all, I’d argue that technology enhances our humanity – there are downsides, for sure, but I’m confident that the benefits outweigh the negatives.

4. You have mentioned earlier that the voice will bring to the forefront, a connect with the masses. Do you think corporates are adopting the Voice trend?
There is so much potential in Voice, and businesses are just beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to applications for this kind of technology. Many of our clients are interested in learning how Voice can help with internal communications and employee engagement, in particular, as Voice can be a very user-friendly way to provide tools, resources and key information. Voice also has the power to change the way companies interact with their consumers and wider audiences. In healthcare, for example, I can see companies using Voice-related tools to tell patient stories, enhance compliance, better understand healthcare treatment, and facilitate caregiving, which is especially important as populations around the world age.

5. In your opinion, how has data globalisation added a new dimension to the debate on “national security”?
Yes, to some degree. It’s important that countries are able to protect and access data that is vital to the safety and well-being of their citizens. For example, citizens’ health information could potentially be misused by a foreign country if they gain access. Energy grids could also be compromised. However, this is likely true regardless of whether the data is localized or globalized.

6. There’s a significant digital divide especially in a country like India. It’s primarily concern in developing and semi-developed countries, how can a company like Ruder Finn help in bridging the gap?
I’m a big believer in the power of a robust startup ecosystem to solve numerous problems, including the digital divide. Startups are more nimble and innovative than most MNCs, and therefore they can grow and lay roots down in smaller cities and towns – often the areas where the digital divide is more pronounced. Companies like Ruder Finn not only help startups to succeed, but we also can help MNCs further their interaction with the innovation ecosystem. The more that MNCs provide scale and resources to startups – especially in addressing digital divide solutions – that faster we’ll be able to close the gap. Our activities in recognizing and communicating innovative solutions from in the startup world and amongst MNCs can help accelerate the collaboration.

(The interview was conducted telephonically)