With lockdown restrictions gradually easing, we are seeing governments across the globe racing to open up their economies whilst trying to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
As a result, says Britt Endemann, co-head of Data Governance, Forensic Risk Alliance, the role of technology software and companies helping the world to adapt to the ‘new normal’ has been heightened. From contact tracing to virtual GPs (general practitioners), online medicine, to remote working and collaboration, technology is filling the gap.
The latest development is the opening up of the hospitality industry in the UK, where venues are being told to log personal data of customers. In the UK, pubs and restaurants as well as hairdressers and beauty salons are now required by the government to request and store customers’ personal information, including names and phone numbers, on their visitor records for 21 days to help with the contact tracing effort for NHS Test and Trace.
Whilst paper records are permissible, technology is central to helping these businesses efficiently meet the new guidelines with minimal administrative burden. Without technology, the hospitality industry would not have been able to re-open as seamlessly as they have.
However, as these businesses rapidly shift to meet requirements and adopt new technology, are the rights of individuals and consumers being protected?
GDPR does in some way protect consumers, however a successful regulatory regime protects not only against current threats but also future ones and the world of COVID-19 is creating numerous unforeseen challenges.
Collective adherence to ever-changing guidelines is key to fighting the pandemic, and hospitality companies and consumers signing up to new technology software or services recognise this it is assumed that most are collecting and providing information in good faith.
However, this does not lessen the fact that valuable personal information and data regarding the habits and profiles of individual consumers are being placed in the hands of technology companies in a way we have never seen before.
When you grab a drink with friends, pick up your favourite local takeaway, or open an electronic menu at the restaurant (by bar code scan), these transactions are being captured, packaged and resold, potentially resulting in long term unforeseen consequences.
Who knows when and where that data’s final resting place may be? This question will indubitably be on the minds of many over the next few months.
As we move forward in this pandemic, it’s critical that the government protects the rights of individuals through appropriate legislation. Consumers should be given transparency and clarity into what exactly they are signing up to and how their data will be used.
It is essential that this happens promptly, as effective enforcement moves beyond data breaches and into safeguarding the rights of individuals a much more difficult terrain to navigate.
On the other hand, hospitality organisations also have a heavy responsibility as part of this new government requirement, and therefore need to be vigilant around how they collect and store consumers’ data.
With such measures coming into force for the first time, it is important that companies understand the possible implications of possessing these data collections to ensure they avoid any potential shortcomings in future.
We highly recommend managing data using advanced technology solutions where possible this allows for speed, accuracy and efficiency when collecting data, as well as the ability to easily search and organise collected data, and ultimately remove the data at the end of the mandated time period.
By ensuring that companies create data management and retention policies no matter how sophisticated it will become easier to streamline how data is managed by employees across the organisation, and will also reduce exposure to regulatory scrutiny should the organisation ultimately need to account for their practices.
Putting these steps into practice will be transformational for organisations within the context of COVID-19 and will also allow them to operationalise compliance with GDPR, as well as other data privacy and compliance regulations.
Staying one step ahead in the data game is going to be key for organisations in the hospitality business if they are going to remain competitive and compliant throughout the pandemic and beyond. While COVID-19 has brought dramatic changes to many industries, there is no doubt that technological advancement is playing a significant role to future-proofing the economy.
In the hardest hit industries, it will be the businesses that can nimbly pivot to new technologies, ethically govern its use, and use it creatively to their advantage, that will thrive and not just survive.
The author is Britt Endemann, co-head of Data Governance, Forensic Risk Alliance.
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