Data has been a focus of tense debate in the past few months. New data privacy regulations, such as GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act, A.B. 375, have been introduced at a time when data is produced at an exponential rate, when businesses rely on becoming data-driven to remain competitive and when large organizations fail to protect and misuse customer data more than ever.

Amongst this debate, the UK government has been awfully quiet. New data privacy laws will bring a future of large fines. However, what is most needed is a change in standards, practices and behaviors that reflect a genuine effort to protect customer data, whilst reaping benefit from the value of data.

Silence will not make Britain a data leader

Whilst the EU agrees on a data deal with Japan, little progress has been made between the UK and the EU to reach a data agreement. Instead, progress on reaching any agreements seems to have been hindered by the government’s recent squabbles over the Prime Minister’s Brexit blueprint.

When Facebook’s involvement in the Cambridge Analytica scandal was brought to question after its revelation in May, Mark Zuckerberg ignored the UK summons asking him to testify in London. However, he did appear before EU representatives, making a strong statement with his choice. The EU then fined Google £3.8 billion, as it begins to claim authority over the world’s tech giants. Yet again, the UK government kept its lips zipped in the debate.

Silence and inaction cannot continue on the part of Europe’s leading country in terms of tech investment. The government needs a transparent data policy to be widely heard by both European partners and Silicon Valley investors, to drive UK businesses forward and to ensure the next generation of data talent will be fostered and nurtured in the UK.

Fines are simply a slap on the wrist for tech giants

The UK hasn’t been completely sedentary. Following an in-depth investigation of fake news and the misuse of data in political campaigning, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee is suggesting tougher regulations for social media companies or a new tax in its recently leaked report.

In July, Britain’s Information Commissioner’s Office issued Facebook with a £500,000 fine as part of its own investigation, accusing the company of failing to protect user data and condemning the level of obscurity surrounding data sharing with third parties in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Given Facebook can generate £500,000 in just over seven minutes, and that under GDPR Facebook could potentially see a fine of up to £1.2 billion in case of a future breach, the ICO’s fine is barely a slap on the wrist.

Although the UK is commended for showing a measure of eagerness to take action against the data privacy violations by large technology companies, fines won’t be sufficient should the UK want to take a clear stance in the issue of how data is used.

A strong data strategy is needed for a data-driven Britain

A principle idea behind GDPR is to encourage organizations to truly value and protect user data, and demonstrate this through business standards, practices and behaviors. Regardless of the outcome of Brexit, a strong data strategy from the government is needed to showcase the UK’s world-class assets in data expertise and tech in general.

Unlike its government, UK businesses have voiced clear views on Britain’s future in data. An optimistic view concerning Brexit resounds as 51% of UK businesses believe it will make it easier to recruit talent into the company, 44% believe Brexit will boost innovation through better data utilization and 32% predict the UK will create its own world-class data legislation.

In order to get ahead in the competition against their European and US counterparts they need clear direction from the government. It needs to engage with data experts and businesses to brighten the UK’s data future.