In line with its Privacy. Security. Risk. 2020 Online programming, the IAPP announced TELUS Communications as a recipient of the HPE-IAPP Privacy Innovation Award. The Canadian telecom was recognized for its "Data for Good" program, which provides governments, health authorities and academic researchers with a platform to access heavily deidentified and aggregated network mobility data to assist in initiatives to flatten the curve of COVID-19.
The HPE-IAPP Privacy Innovation Awards recognize unique programs and services in global privacy and data protection in the private and public sectors and serve to recognize organizations that integrate privacy in such a way that elevates its value as both a competitive differentiator and a centerpiece of customers' and citizens' trust.
"This recognition is an important milestone for TELUS as an organization that values privacy," TELUS Data & Trust Office Privacy & Innovation Director Elena Novas, CIPP/C, CIPM, said. "I joined TELUS four years ago to help develop this platform, and in that time, we have stress-tested the platform, consulted with world-leading experts in deidentification and designed processes with privacy-by-design.
"It’s been amazing to be part of the journey to culminate in a program that could help stem the spread of a pandemic — and shape public policy on how to do so. I am greatly honored by the IAPP’s recognition."
Data for Good is a privacy-first program powered by the privacy-by-design-certified TELUS Insights platform. Launched in 2017, Insights works to deidentify data, combine it into large aggregated datasets to further ensure privacy and then reviews the data to help reveal trends and patterns about how devices move around the TELUS network.
The Insights platform was widely used even prior to the pandemic, according to Novas and TELUS Director of Data Ethics & Governance Jesslyn Dymond, CIPP/C. When COVID-19 hit, TELUS instinctually wondered how it could help serve the greater good, concluding in short order that opening up access to the trove of data produced by Insights was the way to go.
Dymond pointed to two frames of mind that helped Data for Good fall into place.
"There’s TELUS’s commitment to our ‘For Good’ programs that aim to bridge digital divides and use technology to enable remarkable human outcomes. Using data in this context seemed like a natural evolution of the program and an important way to 'do good,'" Dymond said. "The leadership TELUS has taken with respect to privacy and data governance is the other piece. We have a mandate around data and trust, so everything we do is focused on building and maintaining the trust our customers have in us."
While being able to serve a purpose during such trying times was a goal, doing so in a privacy-preserving way carried equal importance. The deidentification and aggregation practices employed by TELUS are refined and carefully researched. Not only did the company have in-house deidentification expertise, but it also made it a point to seek external verification from academics and trusted professionals.
"We wanted to make sure we could give comfort to our clients with respect to how we apply deidentification," Novas said. "Also, TELUS embraced privacy-by-design long ago and has achieved privacy-by-design certification for several of its products, including the Data for Good program. This was an important milestone for us to validate that we were doing things in a privacy-first manner."
In addition to anonymization techniques, TELUS has ensured access to its data is subject to tight contractual restrictions on use, sharing, scope of purpose and length of retention.
TELUS likely did not anticipate COVID-19 raging on as it has. Fortunately, it didn't stop the company from devising a program that is able to evolve alongside the need to combat the virus. The hope is the experience with the pandemic will help Data for Good continue to flourish once it finally passes.
"Data for Good has its origins in attempting to problem-solve around a pandemic, which is a tremendous example of taking the resources you have at hand and using them to help citizens," Novas said. "As we continue to move forward with the program, we are continually identifying areas where we can use our deidentified and aggregated data to help in a responsible way and solve some of our society's most complex problems. It sounds a little crazy and grand, but if you have the resources to help make a difference, then we believe you can find a responsible way to make that difference."
Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash
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