Insider Q&A: Data management CEO mulls state of data laws

So many people routinely give away sensitive information about themselves to use free digital services on their phones and computers that it even worries the leader of a major data-management company.

That's why Splunk CEO Doug Merritt is part of a growing crowd urging U.S. lawmakers to adopt personal data safeguards similar to those Europe imposed last year with the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. Merritt also believes people should get a slice of the money being made from their information, although he's not supporting a recent "data dividend" proposal in California.

The data mining craze has been a boon so far for San Francisco-based Splunk. The popularity of its data-management tools for businesses and government agencies has helped lift its stock by roughly sevenfold from its initial offering price of $17 seven years ago.

Merritt spoke recently with The Associated Press. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: Do you think the U.S. needs better regulations governing personal data?

A: My general view in life is that transparency is a positive event for all of humanity. If nothing else, (discussions about) these new regulations are helping people get a little more awareness of "OK, my behaviors and actions do have value. I probably should be a little more thoughtful about what I share with whom."

Q: Should the government find ways to compensate people for mining their data?

A: I think it's imperative that human beings understand that there is economic opportunity in your data. But for government to tax corporations and try to give it back to people, I think that would actually darken the clouds and not open up the sky. What the government can do is set up regulatory frameworks and consequences for non-adherence. What I'd like to see within those frameworks is something in there about how I can broker my data. I think we all should expect that.

Q: Should we be concerned with what might happen to our data when someone new eventually comes into control at a company like Google?

A: I would love government to come up with a framework that (says) the data belongs to the individual. And then whether (Google co-founders) Larry (Page) and Sergey (Brin) are still there, or an evil lord comes in, there are regulatory constructs that say, "Evil lord, you are not allowed to do this. And if you do, we will shut down your company because you are breaking the law."

Q: Has the heightened awareness about data helped Splunk?

A: We are very lucky and our timing is very good. We have a big platform at a point of time that people are finally beginning to understand, "Oh, data is really important and there really is value in it." (GDPR) has helped us in a number of deals around the world. Businesses need an analytics solution that helps them understand if they are adhering to GDPR and whether they are exposed or not. Splunk is a good tool to do that. It is one more beacon that says, "Yep, data matters."