“Data protection means helping to shape innovation”
Mr Gladbach, when you are asked to accept cookies on a website, what do you do? Do you reject cookies entirely, or do you make expressed choices?
I reject them all the time. Often, it takes much longer to deal with these things than to access the website. That’s not very satisfying, but it shows the tension between legal requirements and the reality of life.
Information about data handling is all too often hidden and it takes users a while until they find it. Does that annoy you?
I would appreciate it if we all dealt more positively with this information and didn't see it as a necessary evil. Because it’s not. Data is precious and crucial to shaping – and experiencing – the digital age. At Audi, we try to reflect data protection and data security as transparently and comprehensibly as possible.
You differentiate between data protection and data security. What’s the difference?
Data security refers to the protection of stored data against loss, theft, or manipulation. Whereas data protection promises those who entrust their personal data to a company for a specific purpose that it will only be used for that very purpose. Data protection is therefore often also understood as the protection of privacy and personal autonomy. Which is nothing new, now that digital networking is becoming increasingly important. Data protection has always been important at Audi. It is just becoming more and more complex.
“Data is precious and crucial to shaping – and experiencing – the digital age.”
On the one hand, many users categorically refuse consent to data collection. But on the other hand, millions of photos are uploaded to social media platforms every day. Is that a contradiction?
Customers will give their data willingly when they see an immediate benefit from it. When you post a photo on the Internet, you’ll often get feedback very quickly. But if you give consent to the use of your data for different purposes, the feedback may be less immediate. I’ve said it before: it’s all about transparency. But it is clear that we as a society are only partially prepared for what the age of digitisation has to offer, depending on our cultural backgrounds. Legislators around the world are responding to this with ever new and stricter laws and requirements. Among other things, sanctions, such as fines for data protection violations, have increased significantly for companies. So, privacy protection has long since ceased to be a solely German or European goal.
And how are users reacting? Can you see a development?
Data protection is very important at Audi. We carefully check every single use of personal data. But of course, we regularly receive inquiries from users. That’s absolutely normal. And these inquiries are also becoming more and more complex because our customers are also becoming increasingly informed. This leads to a deeper understanding. And we see this as an opportunity.
An opportunity for what?
To enter into dialogue, to clear up misunderstandings or reservations. It’s the same with classic products: satisfied customers are multipliers, and the greater the trust in the careful handling of the data provided to us, the stronger our position in the competitive environment. Trust is essential for the future. Data is the driver of modern mobility.
“It’s important to keep reaffirming the great trust placed in the Audi brand in the future.”
Audi is providing more and more digital services and offers. At what point does data protection come into play?
By law, data protection officers have the task of enabling, not preventing, business ideas from the responsible departments. Data protection laws also see it as quite legitimate to earn money from the use of personal data. This means enabling business activity and innovation thanks to, not despite, the protection of personal data. We pave the way early in the process so that the product is ready for market in accordance with our privacy claims, and our customers can feel good about their experience.
Do you ever have to put the brakes on or do new digital product ideas sometimes open the way for changes in legislation?
Laws and jurisdictions sometimes lag behind social and technological developments. As a rule, however, laws always offer room for interpretation. It is therefore entirely possible that innovation on the part of the company can adapt “old” standards to the “new” reality of life. We are in constant exchange with the relevant regulatory authorities to ensure that the ideas of our colleagues in the specialist departments are taken into account.
When digital offers become more and more important, do you think data excellence will one day be more important than design when purchasing a car?
Design and product appeal will always be important, that’s clear. But it’s also true that the seamless digital networking of our customers’ lives will become a decisive differentiator in the competitive automotive environment. It is therefore all the more important to continue to build on the trust that our customers have long placed in the Audi brand and to reaffirm it time and again. With fascinating digital offers and effective, transparent protection and handling of their personal data.