New digital business models and data protection - A contradiction in terms?

Renata Jungo Brüngger, the Daimler Board of Management member responsible for Integrity and Legal Affairs, explains what our customers can expect from us in the area of data protection.

Ms. Jungo Brüngger, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of the EU came into effect in May 2018. What has changed for your customers as a result of the GDPR?

Renata Jungo Brüngger: Our customers are benefiting from it. Let me give you an example: We’re making more information available on our websites and in our contracts. By doing so, we comply with our basic principles for data processing: Customers can always decide whether or not they want to share their data for processing. And we have designed our systems to be transparent and easy to use. This is especially relevant when customers take advantage of our digital features, for example in connected vehicles. For example, on Mercedes me connect you can either activate all the services at once or only the service that you really want to use. However, the GDPR regulates more than just the data protection for our customers. We also inform our employees in detail about how their data is processed by the company and about the rights they possess in this context.

How well has the transition to the new regulation succeeded at Daimler? And how did you prepare for the GDPR?

Renata Jungo Brüngger: The transition was definitely challenging, but we were well prepared. We had enough lead time, and we have a professional data protection organization. Our task was to create the necessary preconditions for the company and all of its employees so that the implementation of the GDPR works in practice. So we set up a project for the transition in which we defined work packages and then worked our way through them together with the responsible specialist units.

But we are also convinced that data protection alone is not enough to enable us to prepare for the opportunities and challenges connected with digitalization. That’s why at Daimler we’re implementing a Group-wide concept that goes beyond data protection.

What are the elements of this concept, and what do you aim to achieve with it?

Renata Jungo Brüngger: We have laid down basic principles for handling data by defining the concept of data governance. The challenge here is the need to keep opportunities as well as risks in mind in order to shape data and digitalization issues proactively. Our goal is to make use of the opportunities to create new services and business models, while making sure we deal with data securely and ethically. Our focus is on the users, to whom we want to offer added value.

How are we doing this? By involving the lawyers and the data protection and compliance experts from my department at a very early stage so that they can help to shape the development of innovations. At the same time, we’re making the responsible handling of data a fixed premise of our daily business activities. That’s essential in order to create trust in data-based services.

In doing so we’re going beyond mere fulfillment of the GDPR requirements. We want to ensure responsible, legally sound, and ethical handling of data in general, not only personal data. We also apply our basic principles to data that cannot be clearly connected with a single individual.

What data-based services do you offer, and what role does data protection play in the development of new services?

Renata Jungo Brüngger: With the help of data, we can fulfill our customers’ wishes more effectively. Just think of MBUX or new technologies such as autonomous driving, for example. When vehicles communicate with one another by means of data, it also results in benefits for the user. Here’s an example: Let’s say you’re desperately searching for a parking space in the city center. By connecting with other vehicles, your car finds available parking spaces, and you can directly head toward them. You no longer have to spend precious time looking for a parking space — and the added value of this function is obvious.

At Daimler, data protection experts, IT safety experts, and engineers work together from the very start to develop services like these. That way we can identify possible risks early on and minimize them. Data protection is a quality aspect for us, and it’s firmly established in our development processes — this principle is known as “Privacy by Design.” It means that our customers can decide freely which services they want to use. The system asks them whether they agree to their data being used. They can activate the services they want with a click, and they have full transparency at any time if they want to find out what data they are sharing with traffic or maintenance systems, for example.

The GDPR has established uniform data protection rules throughout Europe. In your opinion, is this increasing the public’s acceptance of new technologies and data-based services?

Renata Jungo Brüngger: Laws are necessary and the GDPR is definitely an important step. But in my opinion we also need a broad-based public discussion about the extent to which we want to use data in the future and what rules should apply. The subject of data is obviously a sensitive one. Many people are worried that their data could be misused. We don’t want to play down these fears — on the contrary, we want to build trust. Besides, I think we shouldn’t focus only on the risks. We shouldn’t allow our fears of possible risks to inhibit us. Instead, we need the courage to innovate. That’s the only way we can take advantage of the opportunities opened up by data-based products and services. And sustainable innovations are the only way we can build trust and have lasting success.

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