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How privacy-driven innovation can eliminate data waste

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Truata’s Michael Ingrassia discusses how companies can use data in responsible ways without reducing its efficiency or creating excessive data waste.

There’s no denying the commercial benefits of leveraging the untapped potential of data. It has been ringing in the ears of executives since data was first hailed as the fuel of the future.

But with both consumers and regulators putting companies under increasing pressure to prove that they are powering their data use in responsible ways, a privacy airlock is now preventing that data from flowing efficiently, if even at all, through their commercial pipes.

How much data are you actually wasting?

Addressing the inherent complexities of data-driven transformation­ – harnessing the right tech, tools and people who can extrapolate valuable insights from data – requires expensive investment. But in addition, the fear of stepping out of line with regulators, or tarnishing brand value with consumers, is also causing costly repercussions for companies – some of which are obvious, while others are more pernicious.

In particular, the new wave of analysis paralysis enveloping organisations in our increasingly privacy-centric world is leading to vast amounts of data waste, thereby stifling growth in an economy where the ability to leverage advanced analytics will be a key differentiator between the businesses that struggle to survive versus those that thrive in industry 4.0.

From too liberal to too conservative

Data waste is not a new phenomenon. Initially, the volumes of data that companies were accumulating were not being put to work. Why? Because data was a new asset that required new knowledge and new tools.

However, as organisations began to understand how data could be leveraged to improve organisational efficiency and consumer experience, we entered the era of vast data exploitation which, unfortunately, also gave rise to increasing data misuse.

And that’s when the pendulum started to swing. Consumers became more aware of their digital selves, ‘data for gain’ became a bone of societal contention, and demands for regulatory intervention were eventually met.

However, the crack of the compliance whip through enhanced regulations and enforcement, while effectively introducing much-needed discipline to data handlers, has resulted in collateral damage as well. It has led many organisations to feel forced into over-rotating towards treating their data as a potential liability rather than a potential asset to drive growth.

The data advancements that propelled so many businesses forward now, ironically, hold them back. Only this time it is the fear of how to mitigate a tangible risk, rather than ignorance as to how to exploit an intangible asset, that is leading to mass data waste.

Rules alone will not work

Data analytics is at an inflection point and companies are at a crossroads as they assess several competing factors, none of which can be ignored: commercial value, consumer trust, regulatory compliance and business strategy. The seeming irreconcilability of these factors leads to paralysis, where no decisions are made due to fear of a misstep.

In order to break this logjam and drive data-based innovation forward, there needs to be a systematic rethink around the way we position data privacy. The conversation can no longer be focused solely on following the rules and regulations that governments have imposed.

Of course, satisfying regulatory obligations needs to be done, but that cannot become the alpha and the omega of the analysis. It’s too restrictive of a narrative. We need to instead be honest and embrace the fact that rules alone won’t help businesses to overcome the everyday obstacles that stand in their immediate way.

To break free from the data waste causing analysis paralysis that many organisations currently find themselves locked in, they need to learn from the most sophisticated companies when it comes to data analytics. These data innovation-led companies are embracing privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs) to address their two-pronged problem: how to get the value they need from their data and address data privacy concerns at the same time.

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This tech-led approach also requires that governments, knowing that the necessary tools are now emerging to facilitate change, support a positive positioning and drive marketplace incentives that guide a conversation around responsible data practices that foster innovation, rather than limiting it.

It’s time for technology to be leaned on as the solution to the problem rather than being cast aside as the enabler of the trust crisis that now exists.

Encouraging responsible innovation with PETs

Rather than incessantly pushing the regulatory rules of play when it comes to data, we can collectively encourage responsible innovation through the use of PETs.

Shifting the negative narrative to one of empowerment will assist with triggering a movement of change that offers organisations a way out of the privacy prison in which they have unwittingly confined themselves. This offers a practical approach to unlocking data and supports a solution that will enable us to both overcome the trust crisis and fuel the trust economy.

By embracing privacy-enhancing technologies that can measure and mitigate privacy risk, businesses can confidently conduct analytics on their data without having to worry about consumer or regulatory backlash.

In addition to this, since PETs are intentionally designed to unlock value and protect privacy, they offer businesses both a safety blanket and a door to new opportunities. And because PETs are becoming more sophisticated and attuned to different use cases, they enable companies to understand the return-on-investment on the early adoption of a privacy-centric business strategy.

Permissionless innovation can still exist

The success of the modern tech economy was powered by the principle of permissionless innovation, which asserts that innovation thrives in a lawless space – cyberspace – where there are no regulatory constraints.

But the idea that innovation and data responsibility are mutually exclusive is a canard, as PETs increasingly and convincingly demonstrate that lawful innovation doesn’t need to be heckled as oxymoronic.

Today, the power imbalance that once favoured the corporations tilts towards the consumers, which means that Mark Zuckerburg’s “move fast and break things” era is over – especially if the thing being broken is consumer trust. Companies that are seeking lucrative, long-term success built around loyalty need to evolve with a privacy mindset.

Now that we have reached an era where we understand how technology can impact people, we can adapt, as humans always have, to new ways of thinking and working. By placing people at the heart of strategy and harnessing technology that protects their privacy, businesses can continue to drive innovation without compromising on consumer trust – and that is a business philosophy that is “sustainable for the long-term”.

Ultimately, harnessing the power of PETs will not only help companies to relieve the regulatory and consumer pressures that are restricting their data flow, but it will also ensure that the full potential of their data can be leveraged in a responsible way to fuel tomorrow’s growth strategy.

By Michael Ingrassia

Michael Ingrassia is president and general counsel at Dublin-based data anonymisation and analytics company Truata.

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Iran reveals use of cryptocurrency to pay for imports • The Register

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Iran has announced it used cryptocurrency to pay for imports, raising the prospect that the nation is using digital assets to evade sanctions.

Trade minister Alireza Peyman Pak revealed the transaction with the tweet below, which translates as “This week, the first official import order was successfully placed with cryptocurrency worth ten million dollars. By the end of September, the use of cryptocurrencies and smart contracts will be widespread in foreign trade with target countries.”

It is unclear what Peman Pak referred to with his mention of widespread use of crypto for foreign trade, and the identity of the foreign countries he mentioned is also obscure.

But the intent of the announcement appears clear: Iran will use cryptocurrency to settle cross-border trades.

That’s very significant because Iran is subject to extensive sanctions aimed at preventing its ability to acquire nuclear weapons and reduce its ability to sponsor terrorism. Sanctions prevent the sale of many commodities and technologies to Iran, and financial institutions aren’t allowed to deal with their Iranian counterparts, who are mostly shunned around the world.

As explained in this advisory [PDF] issued by the US Treasury, Iran has developed numerous practices to evade sanctions, including payment offsetting schemes that let it sell oil in contravention of sanctions. Proceeds of such sales are alleged to have been funnelled to terrorist groups.

While cryptocurrency’s anonymity has been largely disproved, trades in digital assets aren’t regulated so sanctions enforcement will be more complex if Iran and its trading partners use crypto instead of fiat currencies.

Which perhaps adds more weight to the argument that cryptocurrency has few proven uses beyond speculative trading, making the ransomware industry possible, and helping authoritarian states like Iran and North Korea to acquire materiel for weapons.

Peyman Pak’s mention of “widespread” cross-border crypto deals, facilitated by automated smart contracts, therefore represents a challenge to those who monitor and enforce sanctions – and something new to worry about for the rest of us. ®



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Edwards Lifesciences is hiring at its ‘key’ Shannon and Limerick facilities

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The medtech company is hiring for a variety of roles at both its Limerick and Shannon sites, the latter of which is being transformed into a specialised manufacturing facility.

Medical devices giant Edwards Lifesciences began renovations to convert its existing Shannon facility into a specialised manufacturing centre at the end of July.

The expansion will allow the company to produce components that are an integral part of its transcatheter heart valves. The conversion is part of Edwards Lifesciences’ expansion plan that will see it hire for hundreds of new roles in the coming years.

“The expanded capability at our Shannon facility demonstrates that our operations in Ireland are a key enabler for Edwards to continue helping patients across the globe,” said Andrew Walls, general manager for the company’s manufacturing facilities in Ireland.

According to Walls, hiring is currently underway at the company’s Shannon and Limerick facilities for a variety of functions such as assembly and inspection roles, manufacturing and quality engineering, supply chain, warehouse operations and project management.

Why Ireland?

Headquartered in Irvine, California, Edwards Lifesciences established its operations in Shannon in 2018 and announced 600 new jobs for the mid-west region. This number was then doubled a year later when it revealed increased investment in Limerick.

When the Limerick plant was officially opened in October 2021, the medtech company added another 250 roles onto the previously announced 600, promising 850 new jobs by 2025.

“As the company grows and serves even more patients around the world, Edwards conducted a thorough review of its global valve manufacturing network to ensure we have the right facilities and talent to address our future needs,” Walls told SiliconRepublic.com

“We consider multiple factors when determining where we decide to manufacture – for example, a location that will allow us to produce close to where products are utilised, a location that offers advantages for our supply chain, excellent local talent pool for an engaged workforce, an interest in education and good academic infrastructure, and other characteristics that will be good for business and, ultimately, good for patients.

“Both our Shannon and Limerick sites are key enablers for Edwards Lifesciences to continue helping patients across the globe.”

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Meta’s new AI chatbot can’t stop bashing Facebook | Meta

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If you’re worried that artificial intelligence is getting too smart, talking to Meta’s AI chatbot might make you feel better.

Launched on Friday, BlenderBot is a prototype of Meta’s conversational AI, which, according to Facebook’s parent company, can converse on nearly any topic. On the demo website, members of the public are invited to chat with the tool and share feedback with developers. The results thus far, writers at Buzzfeed and Vice have pointed out, have been rather interesting.

Asked about Mark Zuckerberg, the bot told BuzzFeed’s Max Woolf that “he is a good businessman, but his business practices are not always ethical. It is funny that he has all this money and still wears the same clothes!”

The bot has also made clear that it’s not a Facebook user, telling Vice’s Janus Rose that it had deleted its account after learning about the company’s privacy scandals. “Since deleting Facebook my life has been much better,” it said.

The bot repeats material it finds on the internet, and it’s very transparent about this: you can click on its responses to learn where it picked up whatever claims it is making (though it is not always specific).

This means that along with uncomfortable truths about its parent company, BlenderBot has been spouting predictable falsehoods. In conversation with Jeff Horwitz of the Wall Street Journal, it insisted Donald Trump was still president and would continue to be “even after his second term ends in 2024”. (It added another dig at Meta, saying Facebook “has a lot of fake news on it these days”.) Users have also recorded it making antisemitic claims.

BlenderBot’s remarks were foreseeable based on the behavior of older chatbots such as Microsoft’s Tay, which Twitter users quickly taught to be a racist conspiracy theorist, forcing the company to apologize for its “wildly inappropriate and reprehensible words and images”. GPT-3, another AI system, has also delivered racist, misogynist and homophobic remarks. A South Korean startup’s chatbot, designed to resemble a 20-year-old college student, had to be suspended after it rattled off racial slurs and anti-LGBTQ+ remarks.

Given the cesspool that is the internet, Meta appears to have expected similar things from its own service. Before logging on, users must acknowledge that BlenderBot is “likely to make untrue or offensive statements”. As Vice notes, Meta researchers have described the AI tech behind the bot as having “a high propensity to generate toxic language and reinforce harmful stereotypes, even when provided with a relatively innocuous prompt”.

“Everyone who uses Blender Bot is required to acknowledge they understand it’s for research and entertainment purposes only, that it can make untrue or offensive statements, and that they agree to not intentionally trigger the bot to make offensive statements,” said a Meta spokesperson in a statement.

My own conversation with BlenderBot did not veer into that territory, but it did highlight another flaw in the service: its utter inanity.

The bot began by asking me what subject I liked in school. The bot is open about which “persona” it is using in the conversation; our discussion involved a persona it described as “I like to read. I went to college.” When I asked it tough questions, such as which colleges accepted AI bot students, it offered nonsensical replies (“in some ways, aren’t we all chatbots?” No) and offered further reading by saying, “Here’s the link”, without providing a link. It also kept steering the conversation back to chatbots.

It did, however, maintain its firm stance against its own creators. When I said I wasn’t a fan of Facebook’s ethics, it wholeheartedly agreed: “Me too! That is why I stopped using it and just stick with reading books instead.”



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