Kia ora from New Zealand!
The international privacy grapevine is, naturally, abuzz with commentary about the upcoming EU General Data Protection Regulation. This is timely, as APAC countries both come to terms with what the GDPR means for them and witness changes to their own laws that reflect an international shift of regulatory focus to individual control, consent and consequences. It is no surprise that this week’s APAC Digest pulls together some useful articles on GDPR readiness, but, interestingly, it also provides some excellent thoughts on big data, artificial intelligence and where we might be headed.
China’s social credit system has been a prevalent topic of conversation for some time. Generally, those outside China view this with removed horror, complacently assuming it would not happen elsewhere. Not so, says John Harris in a Guardian Op-Ed. Describing the “tyranny of algorithms,” Harris helpfully reminds us that sprawling and randomly connected private sector ratings systems are prevalent in the Western world. He warns, alarmingly, that these are the constituent parts of a comprehensive social credit system, just waiting to be “glued together.”
In China itself, however, where many have assumed that privacy is a lost cause, the public is taking action, showing a growing concern about the threat artificial intelligence and big data pose to their privacy. According to a survey run by China Central TV and Tencent Research, 76.3 percent of respondents was worried about the privacy impact of AI, reinforcing a view that Chinese consumers are, in fact, becoming more aware of their privacy. Whether these changing public views have an impact on the general acceptance of the social credit system remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, here in NZ, these concepts are at the forefront of current conversation and debate. On 13 and 14 March 2018, the Office of the NZ Privacy Commissioner will host two privacy sessions that touch on dystopian privacy futures. In Wellington, Cory Doctorow will discuss machine learning and big data, explaining the seemingly limitless possibilities for machine learning and how it will require skilled practitioners and careful research to separate approaches that seem promising from those that actually deliver. In Auckland, a panel that includes NZ Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Cheryl Gwyn will consider just how close we’re coming to George Orwell’s cautionary classic “1984.”
These reflections on grander privacy issues — big brother, AI and machine learning, information sharing between the government and business — are always a critical part of the privacy conversation. For privacy professionals, it is useful at times to take a step back from day-to-day operational privacy issues and remember why we’re all doing what we do and how we can work together to ensure that our societies stay on a fair, responsible and transparent privacy path.
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