In just 12 months, the U.S. retail landscape changed its attitude regarding protection of private data. Some experts go even further, comparing Western democraties and ‘Chinese autocracies’ run with surveillance.

Through . Published on 02 March 2020 à 16h51 - Update on 02 March 2020 à 16h51

It’s a weak signal, but a signal,
nonetheless. Until last year, among the
exhibitors at the NRF Retail Big Show,
American editors of in-store analytics
or personalised marketing responded
politely to European visitors, even with
a touch of condescension. G.D.P.R.
regulations ruled out deployment of
their solutions in Europe.”

One year later, the discourse has changed. Some American states
have passed laws quite similar to the European directives for data protection. The California Consumer Privacy Act came into force on January 1st, 2020. The New York Shield Act will follow on March 21st. Colorado, Virginia and Washington States may submit similar regulations this year. Federal regulations are not excluded, as Republicans and Democrats each proposed a privacy protection law in the Senate during 2019. As a result, this year at the Retail Big Show, not only did many exhibitors claim to be compatible with the G.D.P.R. and the C.C.P.A., but some start-ups presented products specifically intended for compliance. An example is Messaging Architects, who help respond effectively to demands to remove personal data where it is scattered across multiple information systems. Let’s take the example of a German customer renting a vehicle for a trip in Italy.. His data is already in two different Information Systems (I.S.) from the company. If he takes an insurance and joins the loyalty programme, another two I.S. sets are needed. He needs repair work or lack of fuel when returning the car? Another two I.S. sets are needed. The solution from Messaging Architects indexes customer data from all of these I.S. sets, for reconciliation. If a client request a deletion, the solution accesses all customer’s data at once. This is an obvious interest for
retailers, who otherwise must devote
significant resources and risk heavy
financial sanctions when they fail to
delete personal data. In Europe, the
G.D.P.R. provides for a fine of 4% of
total turnover in the case of breach of
the rights of access, error rectification,
corrections and the right to be removed.

Chinese solution providers were at the
other end of the spectrum. Fewer than
in previous years (due to the trade war
between the U.S. and China), Chinese
firms nevertheless appear to be much
more advanced in terms of convergence
of online and offline channels. Yin
Wang, International Director of
Hisense, presented an automatic cash
register based on facial recognition,
hence allowing ultra-fast payment and
personalised shopping. He dismissed
regulatory handcuffs, perceived as an
obstacle to the merging of stores, data,
digital and logistics, and the advent of a
completely fluid customer experience.

In the U.S., politicians have jumped on the bandwagon of awareness for the protection of personal data, stimulated by the development of the Chinese model. During the Retail Big Show, Paul Ryan, Republican who chaired the House of Representatives from 2015 to 2019, proposed a new clash of civilisations: “I see a fight between the democratic model and the model of autocracy. China has become a surveillance state. It colonises the world with technology and deploys digital footprints. The financial influence is notable through fiscal and economic incentives like in Djibouti. The United States must lead the effort of the free world to thwart this model”. Kara Swisher, one the most influential U.S. journalists, occupies the opposite political spectrum. When interviewed alongside Paul Ryan, she said “The
U.S. is investing in unimportant areas, whereas we should invest massively
in artificial intelligence, automation, facial recognition. The development of next generation technologies is of no concern to those in Washington, when we should lead it. We are losing this war against China”.