“Our own information — from the everyday to the deeply personal — is being weaponized against us with military efficiency. These scraps of data, each one harmless enough on its own, are carefully assembled, synthesized, traded and sold.
Taken to the extreme this process creates an enduring digital profile and lets companies know you better than you may know yourself. Your profile is a bunch of algorithms that serve up increasingly extreme content, pounding our harmless preferences into harm.“
– Tim Cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook just delivered the keynote speech at the 40th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners (ICDPPC). Debating the ethics of big data, excellent capitalism and the kinds of technological innovations that have brought consumers ease-of-use and convenience – as well as huge profits to Silicon Valley – the conference takes on the many ways that our digital lives are assembled, tracked, pimped and sold.
Speaking before an audience in Brussels attending the ICDPPC, as reported by TechCrunch, Tim Cook attempts to draw the line, despite Apple’s own products and systems that have amassed astonishing amounts of private digital data.
“At its core this technology promises to learn from people individually to benefit us all. But advancing AI by collecting huge personal profiles is laziness, not efficiency.”
By endorsing a “comprehensive federal privacy law” and expressing his support for the European Union’s newly implemented General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which serves to give individuals control over their personal data, Cook says human values must be protected.
“For artificial intelligence to be truly smart it must respect human values – including privacy. If we get this wrong, the dangers are profound. We can achieve both great artificial intelligence and great privacy standards. It is not only a possibility – it is a responsibility.”
By calling for “the right to have personal data minimized” and by noting that companies need to understand that “data belongs to users,” Cook champions the very principles that blockchain developers are prioritizing by building transparent, decentralized systems that allow users to control their own data and their own digital identities.
In the monolithic corporate view, however, the companies still hold the keys to your private information. They are the ultimate arbiters and gatekeepers for zettabytes of centralized content.
It was an honor to be invited to #ICDPPC2018 in Brussels this morning. I’d like to share a bit of what I said to this gathering of privacy regulators from around the world. It all boils down to a fundamental question: What kind of world do we want to live in?
— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) October 24, 2018
In the blockchain ecosystem, the paradigm shifts to distributed digital ledgers with data across many computers that are governed through consensus. These decentralized systems using cryptocurrencies as a means of transferring value are not determined by central authorities that can change rules, terminate accounts or otherwise dictate how your data, money or personal information will be stored, used, revealed or sold to the highest bidder.
Standing for four key principles – data minimization, transparency, data access and data security – Cook says that the potential of technology for good can avoid its subversion to “magnify our worst human tendencies… deepen divisions, incite violence and even undermine our shared sense or what is true or false.”
Cook’s remedy is proper regulation. He believes it can tame corporate and government overreach, protect privacy and instill the kind of faith in technology that’s needed to regain public trust.
“They may say to you our companies can never achieve technology’s true potential if there were strengthened privacy regulations. But this notion isn’t just wrong, it is destructive. Technology’s potential is and always must be rooted in the faith people have in it, in the optimism and the creativity that stirs the hearts of individuals, in its promise and capacity to make the world a better place.”
Very happy that Apple takes privacy seriously to the extent that it does. https://t.co/KLOBhsgEVz
— vitalik.eth (@VitalikButerin) October 24, 2018
It will take all kinds of minds and alternative approaches outside of Apple, Google, Facebook and the big data collectors to achieve more balance, fairness and transparency. Ultimately, people want both control and convenience. As blockchain networks continue to evolve, the key will be marketing them to people with the most user-friendly interfaces and simple language.
Ethics may not be able to drive the future of tech as quickly as economics. If developers can build platforms that save money, confirm privacy, revert control to the user, combat manipulation and abuse of power, and outperform the systems they’re designed to replace, the data industrial complex can eventually lose steam and give rise to a network of decentralized blockchains with impactful governance protocols. The trajectory is a long one, but the outcome can be drastically different than patching the current model that aims to make money off of people’s private data.