Intel execs on big data and privacy: It's a balancing act

When it comes to big data and privacy, mistakes are inevitable. But it's how you respond that will most affect your reputation and bottom line, stress Intel privacy officers.

SAN FRANCISCO---Big data has the potential to play a tremendous role in enriching education, cities, and healthcare, among other verticals touching our everyday lives.

But for that to happen, individuals will need to embrace those innovations -- and that can only be achieved through trust and security, argued Intel global privacy officer David Hoffman.

"We’re not talking about privacy or progress. We’re talking about privacy and progress,” Hoffman stressed.

One of Intel’s endeavors in this regard is encouraging companies to take "a data innovation pledge,” which consists of promoting the simultaneous ethical and innovative use of data, which Hoffman noted the processor maker will continue to implement time and again from now on.

During a panel discussion focused on rethinking privacy in order to spur innovation, Intel’s chief privacy and security officer Malcolm Harkins suggested we are at “the dawning of a third era” in economic and innovative change, with the first dating back to the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century.

"People are worried about what happens when the data goes into the black box,” Danny Weitzner, co-founder of data privacy software startup TrustLayers.

But from here on out, Harkins projected that the rate of change will soon approach the speed of light.

"One way to think about this is that if the Internet were a movie, we’d still be in the opening credits,” Harkins quipped. "This tipping point has to do with big data.”

As this third era takes hold, Harkins specified that Intel is contributing technology, but individuals will be contributing data.

Citing IDC research, Harkins asserted that the big data market will be worth roughly $28.3 billion by 2016 — six times faster than the growth of the entire IT market.

Healthcare has been at the forefront of the advertised potential for end users. Intel is collaborating with the Michael J. Fox Foundation with plans to develop wearables, sensors and other sources for big data in order to better understand Parkinson’s Disease.

There will be much more to come, Harkins promised, adding a caveat that will only happen after first addressing the challenges of data privacy.

More than 65 percent of device owners have no idea who has access to their data or how their data is being used, according to Harkins. Nevertheless, he posited that 45 percent of devices owners are willing to share data so long as it will benefit society.

"It's a balancing act," admitted Harkins, explaining that for Intel, it has become a design challenge and an opportunity to discover how to protect to enable people, devices, and business. "I don't think we have it all solved, but I think we have our purpose."

Harkins emphasized, "We have to constantly earn trust everyday. It takes years to build, seconds to destroy and forever to repair."

Mistakes will always happen, Harkins acknowledged, reminding that what you do to make it right will have an everlasting impact on a company's reputation and bottom line.

Quite simply, transparency concerning data privacy policies is mandatory.

"People are worried about what happens when the data goes into the black box,” Danny Weitzner, co-founder of data privacy software startup TrustLayers. He pointed out that the people most able to misuse the data are also most likely the ones who have authorized access. "You can’t guarantee against misuse in a big data environment."

There is often a huge gap between privacy policies posted on websites and what actually happens in systems, Weitzner remarked, suggesting companies can gain trust by building systems that actually adhere to the policies they have published. 

"We shouldn’t have to tolerate that gap anymore,” Weitzner insisted.

Ebay’s former chief privacy officer Scott Shipman said flatly that the genie is out of the bottle as far as big data being collected at all.

That said, Shipman outlined how the industry will need to build new kinds of tools to ensure higher levels of transparency and move the dialogue forward.

"We're not going to drop fortune cookies with privacy notices from all of the lights," Shipman said, implying respect for data collection and limitations need to be inherit to new technologies.

Now general counsel and chief privacy officer for Sensity Systems, a firm specializing in energy-efficient LED lighting conversions, Shipman noted the focus for the growing company will be both establishing a privacy culture and the "technology from the beginning to ensure the way the information is used is the policy.”

"We're not going to drop fortune cookies with privacy notices from all of the lights," Shipman said, implying respect for data collection and limitations need to be inherit to new technologies.

Shane Green, co-founder and CEO of data vault and private network provider Personal, described how company founders had to send its privacy policy draft back and forth between its lawyers at least five times, insisting upon first protecting the data and rights of the individual.

"Everything had always been written to protect the company,” Green admitted, hinting at the cause of confusion between company leaders and their lawyers.

Harkins concluded, "We have to constantly earn trust everyday. It takes years to build, seconds to destroy and forever to repair."

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