As I noted in my coverage of the first day of CES 2019, privacy had made a big splash within the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center. With the show floors now opened, I trekked to the Sands Expo and Convention Center to see whether the momentum from day one would carry through the rest of the week.
I roamed Eureka Park in the first floor of the Sands, where startups vie for the attention of conference attendees. I personally love Eureka Park for the unique tech on display. Where else can you find an automated pet toilet, a robot designed to make flatbread and electronic skateboards?
Alas, I was not here to make friends with a clapping robot. The first P in IAPP does not stand for pet technologies.
While I made my rounds around Eureka Park, I noticed attendees had a different reaction from last year when I told them why I was in Las Vegas. Privacy startups made their presence felt during last year's conference, but this time it felt as though attendees truly locked onto the privacy concept.
A woman who worked in PR said privacy was a "really big deal" (she worked with the clapping robot), and another exhibitor said that it was "really cool" that I worked in privacy. I'm not making that up. It really happened, I swear!
Humor aside though, the most notable development was the awareness of the EU General Data Protection Regulation. The startups I spoke with knew about the GDPR when I brought it up, even if some of them couldn't quite remember the four letters. Some companies brought it up unprovoked, indicating that GDPR has become an important selling point startups recognize as a vital part of their future.
Branch Labs Founder Jim McCoy cited the GDPR as he discussed Vektor, a device users plug into their router, then download an app to see all of the devices connected to their network. The product identifies devices that may be vulnerable or out of date. It also allows users to create their own VPN networks and access Tor.
Based in London, McCoy said the company has to take GDPR into consideration every time they work with data.
"We can't assume it's not going to apply to us. We know it will apply to us," said McCoy. "We start with the assumption that everything we send out of this device has to be GDPR-cleared. We just don't want to deal with the problems. All of the logs and security alerts that we send out, we still rip out all of the private information."
Vektor was one of the few solutions that advertised its privacy capabilities. McCoy said it was a choice to make his solution stand out from other devices in the smart home area that do not address their data collection practices.
The GDPR came up unprovoked when I spoke with Snips, a French-based startup whose software embeds itself onto pre-existing smart devices. The software allows users to create custom voice commands for each of the smart devices without the need for the internet. Snips touts its privacy-by-design capabilities by stating the voice patterns are localized on the devices.
Snips Global Communications Director Genia Shipova said the focus on privacy by design is what makes Snips a GDPR-friendly solution. She said Snips wants to avoid data-centric business models used by larger tech companies by focusing on contracts with its customers.
Aquilae, another French-based startup, sells software that analyzes video streams for "abnormal behavior," which can be defined by the company using the product. Aquilae representatives said their solution deletes video streams after a certain amount of time and does not hold onto any biometric information. The company does not want to run afoul of the toughest regulators in the EU for GDPR violations.
Startups that have expanded into the EU have had to deal with the GDPR era.
Oshi Health Head of Growth Steve King said his company began to work in Denmark and the U.K. for their app, which allows patients and medical researchers to share information to help those who suffer from chronic diseases. Because of their new locations, King said Oshi Health's legal team reworked the company's privacy policies to ensure they were GDPR compliant.
Given the work they want to do to help patients with chronic illnesses, King said the Oshi Health wanted to place an emphasis on privacy to make sure patients have control over their information. Should someone wish to no longer have their data used, King said the company will respect their request.
"Privacy should not be a fear, it should be an opportunity," said King. "You can show users that they have the power over their information."
There were other notable startups that did not necessarily focus on the GDPR. DeScamer CEO Vic Loh displayed a device no bigger than a key fob that can detect whether gas pumps have been infected by credit-card skimmers and any location that has bluetooth cameras within a 50-foot radius.
Corowave monitors individuals via "bio-signal monitoring sensors." The company's Signal Processing Engineer Hossen Kourckchi said the company can only identify a sensor's owner through their heartbeat. It might be the most hardcore form of identification I've ever encountered.
I want to leave you with a conversation I had with a startup debuting their burgeoning messaging app. The GDPR has essentially set the global standard for privacy regulation, something some non-EU countries seek to replicate.
Some parts of the world, however, do not normally factor into the privacy conversation for one reason or another, which is why my chat with Private Discuss was a noteworthy one for me. Private Discuss Special Advisor Céline Perez described the messaging app as a hybrid between WhatsApp and Slack, where users can exchange encryption keys to pass along secure messages.
Private Discuss only has ten enterprise users, including a bank and other international organizations. Perez said her company is speaking with a leader of a third-world state to bring the app to its borders. When I asked which state, Perez noted the company is called "Private" Discuss.
It may be one app and one anecdote, but perhaps this is a residual result of the GDPR and a growing global awareness about privacy. It may take a while, but as I mentioned in my piece Tuesday, privacy's stock is on the rise.
"Your privacy is in the hands of the big companies. I think this is a time when we have to choose whether to give up on our data, or keep our privacy," said Perez. "This is the time to keep our privacy, and I think there is a business for that."
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