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Privacy Tech | CES 2019: Privacy a big focus in Las Vegas Related reading: Privacy's presence felt at Black Hat USA 2018

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8, 20

Towards the end of my coverage of last year's CES, I wondered whether privacy's presence would be more pronounced when the annual conference set up shop in 2019.

Given all of the developments that unfolded in 2018, one figured privacy would have to make a notable splash in Las Vegas. The EU General Data Protection Regulation went into effect and the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 was passed, and data breaches continued to make headlines. 

Within the first five minutes of entering the Las Vegas Convention Center, I sensed privacy had indeed made a splash this year. During an opening session, Consumer Technology Association Vice President, Market Research Steve Koenig said consumer and business decisions have been increasingly motivated by data, and because of that, information becomes a "common denominator" across devices, services and commerce. 

Consumer Technology Association Vice President, Market Research Steve Koenig discusses privacy during the "CES 2019 Trends to Watch" session.

"Symptomatic of this transition to the data age is why online privacy and data security have become such a central talking point in our commerce and business, but also our culture and society," said Koenig. "When we look around the world, different regions are addressing this matter in different ways. In Europe, we have the GDPR, where you have regulatory things around what you can do with data, and on the other side, you have China, where you have no expectation of privacy."

If you had any doubts about whether privacy has made the big time, his statement should speak volumes. Last year I only found the letters "G-D-P-R" at one single booth, and during my first day of coverage at CES 2018, I did not hear the word "privacy" once. Now the European rules have been cited as a major tech trend. Privacy professionals already knew it, now the rest of the world is catching up.

Koenig said patrons and exhibitors may "rub up" against questions about data handling practices on the show floor. I'll certainly ask some of those questions in the days ahead, so stay tuned. 

During a discussion on autonomous vehicles and the considerations needed to get self-driving cars into the mainstream, privacy was the first topic out of the gate. Deloitte Managing Director, Telecommunications Strategy & Operations Phil Wilson asked whether the CCPA, GDPR and other regulations will impact businesses in the autonomous vehicle space.

Otonomo Founder and CEO Ben Volkow used those regulations to discuss data ownership. He said the industry needs to understand any data generated by autonomous vehicles belongs to the consumer, not the mobility or rental company. "I’m a big supporter of these regulations," said Volkow. "Sometimes we like to complain because they make things slow and complex, but in the end they are there to protect us."

Players in the mobility industry are forced to pay attention to all of the regulations around the world, Volkow explained. And it's not easy. Companies need to understand the GDPR is not the law of the land in the U.S., Germany has stricter laws than most countries, and that Brexit has placed the U.K. into an unclear situation.

I have to reiterate, if you are reading this, this is likely all old hat to you. For many people at CES 2019, however, they are venturing into uncharted territory. One example of this came from a different session in which one of the speakers — a U.S. citizen — was not sure if the GDPR applied to them. The learning curve is going to be steep for some. 

Companies prepare for the influx of CES patrons at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

All of this privacy talk was great and all, but it was not the only topic floating around the LVCC. One notable discussion is what Koenig called the "biggest and most omnipresent trend at CES": artificial intelligence.

AI is here, and it is here to stay. Koenig cited a study from the McKinsey Global Institute that states AI could contribute an additional 1.2 percent to annual GDP up to 2030. One of the major AI drivers is voice assistants. The devices are expected to be a force at CES this year. Don't believe me? The monorails surrounding the LVCC all say "Hey Google" on them. 

A recurring theme during the AI sessions involved algorithmic bias. Specifically, several speakers talked about the lack of diversity from those who code algorithms, since the majority of those individuals are white and male. They called more coder diversity to ensure all people are represented equally, especially as populations continue to shift.

"I think it’s worth being thoughtful and intentional about what you are going to do [moving] forward," said HireHer CEO Ruth Chandler Cook. "You have to think about who you’re customers are going to be, then you need to make sure the thing you are implementing considers what is important to them."

And then there's AI ethics. Hanson Robotics CEO David Hanson said even regulations for AI may be biased if they are created by lawmakers who are predominantly older, white males. Another session on bias in AI featured panelists who cited Amazon's flawed hiring algorithm and MIT Media Lab Researcher Joy Buolamwini's studies into facial recognition systems and their bias toward white men.

If AI is going to be the major force McKinsey predicts it will be, there are still issues that need ironing out in order for it to serve everyone.

When discussing the creation of guidelines for AI, Mina Hanna, chair of the IEEE-USA AI and Autonomous Systems Policy Committee, cited the recently released Data Care Act. Hanna said such a bill is vital for the development of AI. Companies need to use data in order to advance the capabilities of artificial intelligence, and a bill enshrining the duty of care could help those organizations inform what they should and should not do with data, which will help build trust with the public. 

Koenig is most likely correct, we are entering the "data age." If this is truly a new era, than privacy stock is on the rise. Judging by day one here in Las Vegas, it certainly seems to be the case at CES.

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