Recently, the Centre for Information Policy Leadership (“CIPL”) at Hunton & Williams LLP, a privacy and information policy think tank based in Brussels, London and Washington, D.C., and Telefónica, one of the largest telecommunications company in the world, issued a joint white paper on Reframing Data Transparency (the “white paper”). The white paper was the outcome of a June 2016 roundtable held by the two organizations in London, in which senior business leaders, Data Privacy Officers, lawyers and academics discussed the importance of user-centric transparency to the data driven economy.

The roundtable and white paper build upon a number of current initiatives, including the work of the Data Transparency Lab; the 2015 EU-U.S. Privacy Bridges Project, which, among other topics, explored the issue of data transparency; as well as the new European General Data Protection Regulation, which includes enhanced transparency obligations for organizations. As reflected in the white paper, the participants at the roundtable agreed that a new, user-centric conception of transparency represents a multidimensional, multidisciplinary and multistakeholder challenge that is essential to effectively protect individuals and enable digital trust, innovation and beneficial uses of personal data.

The issues explored during the roundtable and in the white paper include the following:

  • The transparency deficit in the digital age. There is a growing gap between traditional, legal privacy notices and user-centric transparency that is capable of delivering understandable and actionable information concerning an organization’s data use policies and practices, including why it processes data, what the benefits are to individuals and society, how it protects the data and how users can manage and control the use of their data.
  • The impact of the transparency deficit. The transparency deficit undermines customer trust and customers’ ability to participate more effectively in the digital economy.
  • Challenges of delivering user-centric transparency. In a connected world where there may be no direct relationship between companies and their end users, both transparency and consent as a basis for processing are particularly challenging.
  • Transparency as a multistakeholder challenge. Transparency is not solely a legal issue, but a multistakeholder challenge, which requires engagement of regulators, companies, individuals, behavioral economists, social scientists, psychologists and user experience specialists.
  • The role of data protection authorities (“DPAs”). DPAs play a key role in promoting and incentivizing effective data transparency approaches and tools.
  • The role of companies. Data transparency is a critical business issue because transparency drives digital trust as well as business opportunities. Organizations must innovate on how to deliver user-centric transparency. Data driven companies must research and develop new approaches to transparency that explain the value exchange between customers and companies and the companies’ data practices, and create tools that enable their customers to exercise effective engagement and control.
  • The importance of empowering individuals. It is crucial to support and enhance individuals’ digital literacy, which includes an understanding of the uses of personal data and the benefits of data processing, as well as knowledge of relevant privacy rights and the data management tools that are available to them. Government bodies, regulators and industry should be involved in educating the public regarding digital literacy. Such education should take place in schools and universities, and through consumer education campaigns. Transparency is the foundation and sine qua non of individual empowerment.
  • The role of behavioral economists, social scientists, psychologists and user experience specialists. Experts from these disciplines will be crucial in developing user-centric transparency and controls.