Study says data hoarding rampant even as tough new EU law looms
If you just can’t bring yourself to part with that four-year-old expense report taking up space on your hard disk, or delete those photos from the office party three years ago, you’re not alone.
A new study by Veritas Technologies LLC finds that 82 percent of information technology decision-makers admit that they hoard data, meaning that they keep information that isn’t necessarily relevant or useful to the business. The survey of 10,022 global office professionals and IT decision-makers also found that 73 percent of respondents said they store data that could be potentially harmful to their organization, including unencrypted personnel records, job applications to other companies, company secrets and embarrassing correspondence.
The research comes as businesses are preparing for the May 2018 enactment of the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a set of laws passed by the European Parliament that aims to give individuals more control over personal data. Laws apply to any company doing business within the European Union and carry fines of up to 4 percent of worldwide sales.
The GDPR defines personal data as “any information relating to an individual, whether it relates to his or her private, professional or public life. It can be anything from a name, a photo, an email address, bank details, posts on social networking websites, medical information, or a computer’s IP address.” In other words, nearly anything qualifies.
The law puts the onus on employers to scrub non-essential files of personal and even professional records of current and former employees. The problem is that data volumes are growing so quickly that some organizations have adopted a policy of simply keeping everything rather than taking the time to selectively cull information. International Data Corp. has predicted that data volumes will grow tenfold by 2020.
And there is a lot of useless information out there. IT managers told Wakefield Research, which conducted the study for Veritas, that they save 54 percent of all the data they create, and that 41 percent of those files go unmodified for three or more years. The thought of cleaning out old files appears to inspire terror; 45 percent said they would rather work weekends for three months than clean out their digital files. More than two-thirds said they have abandoned efforts to manage all digital files because the task is too overwhelming.
The research also comes as the promise of big data is encouraging organizations to keep data they might otherwise discard. “The question we get all the time is why would you ever delete anything? Why wouldn’t you save and track every single piece of history?” said Colin Mahony, senior vice president and general manager of big data at Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co., in a speech at last month’s HPE Big Data Conference.
Veritas offers a couple of reasons. “Within the dark data lies information that may be needed for compliance, is business-critical, or breaches copyrights or data privacy rights,” the report says. “If you can’t find it, or don’t know it’s there, you’re in a dangerous position.” The authors of the study also estimate that hoarding and other poor data practices will create $891 billion of avoidable storage and management costs globally by 2020.
There seems to be little organizational resolve to do much about it. The report says data hoarding is often enabled by company culture and managers don’t want their employees to waste time deleting old files. A bespoke data retention policy that classifies data according to its long-term importance helps, but only 16 percent of organizations do that today.
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