As global data privacy compliance increases in scope and complexity, only about half of executives feel “very prepared” to meet regulatory requirements in the United States, United Kingdom and European Union. 

That is one of the key findings in Womble Bond Dickinson’s 2023 Global Data Privacy Law Survey Report, which draws on responses from more than 200 executives in the U.K. and the U.S., nearly half of whom are C-suite executives. The second annual report analyzes the changing data privacy landscape — including new regulations and the application of artificial intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies — as well as corporate readiness and the differences between those operating in the U.S., U.K. and EU. 

The survey was completed by 205 business leaders in April and May 2023 that represent 22 industries and play either a leading or supporting role in data privacy issues. Half of the respondents (51%) are U.S.-based and represent 33 states. Forty-seven percent of respondents were based in the U.K. Nearly half of the organizations surveyed stated they have offices in the EU, with 25 countries selected. 

As several U.S. state data privacy laws near or reach effective dates, executives with operations in the U.S. are less confident in their preparedness than in last year’s survey: only 45% say they are very prepared to comply with U.S. laws and regulations, compared with 59% in last year’s survey. With a more established General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe and the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA) in the U.K., more respondents with operations on the continent feel prepared to meet these requirements. However, these respondents still feel the impact of an increasingly complex regulatory environment, with 53% saying they are “very prepared” for compliance.

While more than half of respondents have completed such key data privacy measures as designating an internal project manager or owner (70%) and conducting regular training (58%), only 34% have conducted data mapping and understand data practices across the organization.

Roadblocks crop up in other areas as well. For instance, half of the respondents doing business in Europe say understanding the data held within their organizations is a challenge, while 45% cite difficulties increasing their budgets. In the U.S., nearly 60% of executives view tracking the status of legislation and the differences between state laws as a challenge, yet only 42% have completed comparisons of state privacy law frameworks.

In an increasingly global and digital business landscape, the ability to transfer data across borders is paramount. Despite the current regulatory uncertainty in this area, the survey data suggests that data privacy regulations can be helpful for cross-border business — especially for U.K. respondents, who are more experienced with existing standards. Forty percent of U.K. respondents (versus 35% in the U.S.) say these regulations add extra costs but are manageable, while 10% in the U.K. (compared with 17% in the U.S.) believe regulations are a major impediment to such business.

Most respondents say their organizations use fingerprints, facial recognition and other biometric data, including 59% of U.K. respondents and 64% in the U.S. (the latter is a five percent jump from the 2022 survey). Amid expanding use, the compliance risks have also grown with biometric privacy laws and several lawsuits in the U.S.

Regarding geolocation data, 40% of U.S. respondents (and 32% of those in the U.K.) are very concerned about privacy laws that include specific restrictions on collecting and using geolocation data for targeted marketing purposes.

The survey also finds respondents accelerating their adoption of AI technologies. More than 1 in 5 respondents (22%) started using such technology in the past year alone, and only 19% aren’t using it at all. Respondents cite a wide range of uses for AI, with 36% using the technology to generate content and another 24% planning to do so in the next year. However, respondents cite ethical concerns (45%) and legal risks (34%) as key obstacles to AI adoption.