New Alternative Data Standard-Setting Body Publishes Privacy Best Practices

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The Investment Data Standards Organization (IDSO), a non-profit comprised of producers, distributors and users of alternative data, has publicly released a set of best practices for datasets which include personally identifiable information (PII).  The standards, which remain a work-in-progress, are the result of inputs from industry participants and can be downloaded at https://www.investmentdata.org/publications.

“We support transparent, industry-led standards for alternative data,” said Amir Leitersdorf, Executive Chairman of Super Signal Capital.  “At this stage in the development of the industry, it is critical for all participants to strive for the highest standards of practice.”

In the wake of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, there is heightened media attention on improved privacy controls.  At the same time, new European privacy regulations in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), are going into effect May 25, 2018.

“Investment managers have no use for personally identifiable information in itself, but the data created alongside PII is often insightful on an aggregated basis,” said founding IDSO member Gene Ekster, a principal at Alternative Data Group who has previously worked with alternative data at Point72, 1010data and Majestic Research.  “Consequently, it is critical to take steps to make sure that the PII data is excluded or quarantined before it reaches the investment process.”

The 37-page PII standards cover operating procedures for the identification, anonymization and remediation of PII data, as well as risk management, education and training of relevant personnel.   Prior to releasing the current draft, IDSO organized an online call-in forum attended by over 20 buy-side organizations last month.

“The release of an initial set of PII standards is a sign of the growing maturity of the alternative data industry,” said Chris Petrescu, former Data Strategist at WorldQuant.   “We can expect best practices to continue to evolve as new datasets emerge and as regulation changes. For this reason, having industry-driven principles is a benefit to users of the data as well as vendors and intermediaries.”

The Investment Data Standards Organization (IDSO) is a 501(c) organization formed in January 2018 to develop standards for the use of alternative data.  The goals of the Organization are to reduce risks associated with alternative data, facilitate the inclusion of new data sources by investors, and lower the burden of exploration and onboarding.

Membership is open to all alternative data constituents, including providers, intermediaries and users.  Activities are primarily organized around working groups tasked with specific standard-setting objectives.   More details about membership and IDSO organization can be found at www.investmentdata.org.

Our Take

Not all alternative data risks violations of privacy regulations, but some of the most popular and widely used types of alt data, such as transaction data and geolocation data, are highly subject to PII risk.  Even before the Cambridge Analytica scandal, we’ve seen privacy watchdogs challenging hedge fund use of PII data.  As the expert network industry demonstrated during the post-crisis insider trading prosecutions, Industry-led best practices can be an effective inoculation against adverse media and regulatory attention.

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About Author

Sandy Bragg is a principal at Integrity Research Associates. He has over thirty years experience as an investment research professional. Prior to joining Integrity in 2006, he was an Executive Managing Director at Standard & Poors, managing S&P’s equity research business and fund information properties. Sandy has an MBA from New York University and BA from Williams College. Email: Sanford.Bragg@integrity-research.com

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