Balancing Technology with Data Privacy: DataforGood

I watch a lot of movies and science fiction is one of my go-to genres. Over the course of history, sci-fi movies and books have played a significant role in technological advancements. Georges Méliès’ Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and War of the Worlds—even modern films such as Flash Gordon, Star Trek, The Avengers and Star Wars—have foretold some of the greatest scientific developments in history.

More about the movies later, I’ve got a data revolution to cover.

The data revolution is in full force

Without a doubt, the Internet of Things—and the increasing use of connected devices—is driving a data revolution. The amount of data that is generated and collected daily across the globe is mind-boggling. In fact, the World Economic Forum predicts that over 463 exabytes of data will be generated each day by the year 2025. By my calculations, that’s more than 10x the data that the Library of Congress creates daily.

Data (and the insights that data provide) has become the most valuable resource on the planet—more valuable than weapons, gold or even oil.

Consider this: The enormous landscape of companies focused on or supporting the data analytics industry, from hardware and software to cloud and security, is staggering. So is spending. According to IDC, 2019 revenue from big data and analytics solutions are forecast to be $189.1 billion—up 12 percent from 2018—and will climb to $274.3 billion by 2022.

The benefits surely outweigh the cost. Valuable data help us understand our environment, combat poverty and disease, reduce crime, manage traffic, improve workplace safety, provide unlimited learning opportunities and so much more. But it’s important to understand the ramifications of sharing your data.

Your data is being collected…and shared

Photos, videos, machine data, health history, financial and purchasing information, social media profiles (with our likes and dislikes, preferences, political and religious affiliations, etc.)—even DNA and facial recognition data—and so much more data is being harvested today. And we give this information up freely. 

Ben Franklin wrote that “those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” While he was likely defending the authority of a legislature to govern in the interests of collective security, it could easily apply to data privacy issues today. In other words, if you are willing to give up your data, you are willing to sacrifice some freedoms that you enjoy today.

Take DNA analysis services like 23andMe®, Orig3n and AncestryDNA®, for example. They help us learn more about our heritage, connect with family, discover our “superhero” traits and better understand our genetics.

But there is a tradeoff. The data that you’ve paid to provide is likely being shared with health and pharmaceutical companies, social media sites, Google Calico, third-party marketing companies and others. A simple glance at Ancestry’s privacy statement reveals that they collect a massive amount of information not related to your DNA. You probably will never know who you’ve shared your data with.

The downside of sharing data

In the movie Gattaca, Vincent—a natural born, non-genetically enhanced person—dreams of traveling through space to Titan, a moon of Saturn. The only way for Vincent to get there is to use Jerome’s DNA to convince Gattaca that he is, in fact, “a valid” and has the genetic makeup that would allow him to make the trip.

Is it possible that this 1997 movie is foretelling our future?

Think about it. If your DNA, the source code for your body, is combined with your LinkedIn work history and your family history, would you only be employable in a certain field because your data matches 2,000,000 other people? Would your life be predetermined because of your family history, DNA, religion and spend information? Would classism or racism now occur on a molecular level as was the case when people were separated by class in the movie Divergent? Could you be accused of crime before it’s actually committed a la Minority Report?

We already use DNA to solve cold cases. Sites like GEDmatch, an open data genomics database and genealogy website, helped law enforcement find the notorious Golden State Killer, a man accused of committing at least 13 murders and more than 50 rapes and 100 burglaries in California. Since then, 59 cold case arrests have been made nationwide using GEDmatch and their partners.

While identifying cold-case criminals serves the public good, does the use of sites like GEDmatch violate the rights guaranteed to us by the Constitution of the United States?

What about license plate readers or video surveillance cameras that are seemingly everywhere? Should the data be publicly available or only made available if you have a warrant?

I should note that GEDmatch recently changed its opt-in policy. All users are now, by default, excluded from law-enforcement searches unless they explicitly choose to opt in—which makes for slim pickings for law enforcement.

I’m not advocating for one side or the other, only making you aware that there are ramifications to data collection.

Using #dataforgood

Data can also be used for good. For example, the Coverys Red Signal Report says that: “Radiologists are involved in 15% of diagnosis-related claims, second only to those of general medicine providers. Within this category of claims, 80% of the missed diagnoses are alleged to have resulted from the misinterpretation of clinical tests.” They go on to suggest that most of those claims have resulted in some type of permanent injury or death.

Artificial intelligence could lower the radiology-related misdiagnosis rate—and insurance claims and malpractice suits—with advances in the early detection of cancer and other diseases. Anonymously sharing clinical images from across the globe allows machines to learn, allowing us to actually save lives.

We can also use data to reach at-risk students and apply individual learning maps to increase their learning success. If we don’t, we’ll continue to hold back some students and force others to learn at a rate that is too fast for them. The key is making sure that the data doesn’t follow them for the rest of their lives.

And in manufacturing, artificial intelligence can be used to “train” robots to automate production lines and meet consumers’ increasing demands—while keeping workers safe.

Advances in technology—in IoT, AI and data analytics, specifically—continue to drive powerful examples of data used for good.

Data privacy and the law

But if we want to use #dataforgood, we need governments to pass laws that limit how data can be used. Currently, only three states—Illinois, Texas, and Washington—have biometric privacy laws in place. Privacy must be addressed at both the state and federal levels.

Just two weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Justice issued an interim policy regarding forensic genetic genealogy. While prosecuting violent crimes, bringing closure to victims’ families and ensuring public safety are all priorities, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen says that: “we must not prioritize this investigative advancement above our commitments to privacy and civil liberties.” A final policy is expected in 2020.

So what can you do to make sure that we are using #dataforgood?

  1. Consider the consequence of the data you post on social media and elsewhere. Read and understand their privacy policies.
  2. Contact your state and U.S. representatives and ask them how they intend to protect the privacy of your data.
  3. Work with organizations like Logicalis that can help you make the best and most ethical use of your data in your organization.
  4. Learn more about artificial intelligence, both the good and the bad, and keep an open mind.

Logicalis: Helping you use #dataforgood

At Logicalis, we believe in using data ethically and together, with our customers, we can use machine learning and deep learning to help solve big problems in healthcare, manufacturing, government and education.

AI is here, so join our movement. Contact us to get started on solving your biggest data issues. Help use #dataforgood.

Mike Trojecki is the vice president of IoT and analytics at Logicalis US, responsible for developing the company’s strategy, partnerships, and execution plan around digital technologies.