Impact & Expertise

Press Releases

  • February 28, 2013
  • Current Approach to Governing Personal Data Needs Updating for a Big Data World

  • New Report by BCG and the World Economic Forum Calls for a Shift from Managing Data to Managing the Usage of Data, and Stresses the Importance of Context in a World of Increasing Shades of Gray

New York, February 28, 2013— A new approach to personal data is needed in order to strike a balance between protecting individuals and unlocking innovation, according to a new World Economic Forum report released today. Unlocking the Value of Personal Data: From Collection to Usage, a collaboration with The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), explores how the principles for using personal data may need to be refreshed to ensure the trusted flow of data for individuals, businesses, and governments.

The report highlights outcomes from a nine-month dialogue on personal data—part of a multiyear initiative called Rethinking Personal Data that was launched in 2010. (A community of top executives from AT&T, BCG, Kaiser Permanente, Microsoft, VimpelCom, and Visa serves on the Rethinking Personal Data steering board.) This report includes insights from business, civil society, and government on new ways to unlock social and economic value. Additionally, it discusses key government initiatives—particularly the proposed European Commission Data Protection Regulation and the U.S. Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

“The world has changed, yet our current approaches to managing personal data have not kept pace,” said Alan Marcus, senior director of IT and telecommunications at the World Economic Forum. “We need to shift away from trying to control the regulation of data itself and to focus on the management of how data is used.”

A key insight from the report notes that the age of Big Data creates new opportunities and risks, especially as they relate to the privacy of individuals. A richer appreciation for context and new ways for engaging individuals beyond current notice and consent practices are key priorities on which global leaders should focus. In addition, policy frameworks that focus on how data are used—rather than preemptively governing data—are seen as critical for a balanced and sustainable personal-data ecosystem.

“To unlock the value of data, we need to shift to a usage-based, contextual approach to managing rights and permissions,” said John Rose, senior partner at BCG. “Companies will have to establish principles and codes of conduct, develop tools and processes to manage compliance with them, and rethink the way they engage consumers to ensure their trust.”

The report calls for establishing an updated set of principles and the means to uphold them in a hyperconnected world. In this light, there is a need to raise awareness about how technology can play a role in upholding principles by allowing permissions to flow with data. Lastly, the report calls for greater evidence and “learning labs” for understanding the impact policies will have.

BCG has been supporting the World Economic Forum's Rethinking Personal Data initiative for the past two years including the May 2012 report Rethinking Personal Data: Strengthening Trust.

To receive a copy of the report or arrange an interview with one of the authors, please contact Eric Gregoire at +1 617 850 3783 or

About The World Economic Forum

The World Economic Forum is an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging leaders in partnerships to shape global, regional and industry agendas. Incorporated as a foundation in 1971, and headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, the World Economic Forum is impartial and not-for-profit; it is tied to no political, partisan or national interests.

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About The Boston Consulting Group

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is a global management consulting firm and the world's leading advisor on business strategy. We partner with clients from the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors in all regions to identify their highest-value opportunities, address their most critical challenges, and transform their enterprises. Our customized approach combines deep insight into the dynamics of companies and markets with close collaboration at all levels of the client organization. This ensures that our clients achieve sustainable competitive advantage, build more capable organizations, and secure lasting results. Founded in 1963, BCG is a private company with 82 offices in 46 countries.

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