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Data Privacy: Fact or Fantasy?

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If you’re looking for an excellent question for your next pub quiz, try this one: Who came up with these three “Laws of Robotics”?

  • A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm
  • A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law
  • A robot must protect its existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws

Not some robotics researcher, but Isaac Asimov. Bonus points if you can guess when… 1942.

Way back, before we even had the technology we have now, we were already trying to figure out how to control it. 

Nowadays, ‘robotics’ often refers to artificial intelligence, and for a good reason; as we create better A.I., we create robots that will understand these laws. Of course, since Asimov, many others have added to and expanded these laws, but the core concepts remain.

While the ethics of artificial intelligence might seem removed to many of us, how we govern and use technology is something that we all face to face with every day. Most websites, applications and smart devices collect information about their users daily, either through user submission or cookies.

 

Data Privacy Laws

You may have already come across the term data privacy laws. Still, many people think of this vaguely, assimilating it with businesses not selling your information and other generalities. In reality, data privacy laws refer to the regulations around how information is collected, how individuals are informed and what control an individual has over their information once it is transferred.

Federal laws include HIPAA, Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. However, only 25 states have data privacy laws that govern data collection, storage and use. The most comprehensive of which is California. 

Furthermore, data privacy laws can vary wildly. As we hurtle closer to a future with truly intelligent A.I., the question becomes, what will happen when private data and A.I. come face to face? And, does the data we create even matter?

Let’s deal with the latter question first. At a glance, many people would consider most of the data they create fairly banal and irrelevant. Still, the problem is that so much data is created about us that it builds alarmingly accurate pictures of who we are as groups and as individuals. 

As breaches such as Cambridge Analytica and Equifax have shown us, we often don’t know where our data will end up nor how it will be used. A terrifying admission made by Michael Hayden, former NSA and CIA director, asserted, ‘We kill people based on metadata.’

Now, this admission was about gathering metadata from phone calls. However, most of us are more concerned with the data we create from our online presence or use of smart devices.

 

Big Data Meets Artificial Intelligence

So, the second dilemma is when A.I. and data collide. When we look back at those laws of robotics, it seems we need to consider smart technology (machine learning and A.I.) removed from the lens of sci-fi. We aren’t coming face to face with the Terminator; we are coming face to face with our data being utilized against us. 

And, since many A.I. systems are already biased, this could have huge ramifications. Bias can creep into algorithms in many ways but largely occurs because of how the systems are trained.

 

Data Protection

IBM, amongst others, has already begun researching this bias to come up with corrective solutions and create new systems that are not trained with biased data.

What does this mean for us if our data is everywhere and potentially being looked at and used by biased A.I. programs? 

Ultimately, it is on consumers to demand a high level of privacy and to ensure they aren’t given access to their data without any thought. It is on companies to provide ethical policies protecting their users’ data.

As we become a more digital society, understanding that our data needs to be protected the same way our phone or wallet does is vital. Whether we are watching it from scammers, seedy companies, dubious advertising campaigns, credit scores or biased A.I. algorithms, the bottom line is that we do have to protect it.

Many companies are now creating more awareness and visible privacy policies to establish themselves as trustworthy and reliable. Additionally, many people globally are pushing their state and federal governments to create more stringent laws around data privacy. 

This fun info-chart shows how much data is generated every minute and highlights why there needs to be more oversight on this invisible issue that affects us all.

 

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