It’s business as usual for privacy at the US Chamber of Commerce and Internet Association

With the exception of a call for greater transparency around how companies collect and use data — a growing bi-partisan, public-private sector bright spot in the American debate on privacy — the US Chamber of Commerce’s ten new privacy principles and the Internet Association’s almost identical principlesreleased today reflect long-standing industry hostility towards effective government regulation and privacy more broadly. The principles are mostly an extension of the “trust us to do the right thing” argument they’ve been making for years, which have failed miserably.

The Chamber’s very first principle to prohibit state laws altogether on the subject is a not-so-subtle swipe at the popular new law on privacy in California, which industry fought tooth and nail. While imperfect, the law marked an important watershed in popular awakening to the abuses and dangers of the current “click here so we can own your data” model. The Chamber goes on to say in this first principle that “the United States already has a history of robust privacy protection,” which, in addition to being downright cynical and wrong, signals a new round of opposition to meaningful government oversight or intervention.

Their principle on harm-focused enforcement is another clearly outdated and limited approach, as is the call to prohibit individuals from being able to bring an action based on an infringement of their privacy. Together, they completely marginalize us as citizens and consumers, and ask us to trust the system to work on our behalf.

Meanwhile, the Internet Association has loopholes and doublespeak galore. Almost all references to data rights are bounded by phrases like “personal information they have provided,” which often amounts to less than 1% of data collected or purchased by companies. The coup de grace: “individuals should have meaningful controls over how personal information they provide to companies is collected, used, and shared, except where that information is necessary for the basic operation of the business…” When the entire business is predicated on advertising or personalized content and services, I’m not sure what is left really.

As a skeptic myself toward most prescriptive government regulations — I’d rather see innovative new tools and business models solve market and societal failures wherever possible — I spent years watching how utterly incapable industry is of reforming itself when it comes to data and privacy. There is simply too much money and power tied to them while all of the negative externalities fall on us as users — a textbook market failure.

That led me, in addition to my startup efforts on privacy, to work on a number of initiatives that helped create the principles and specifics for the new EU regulations known as GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). These laws, also imperfect, not only aim to curb current abuses, they mandate far greater transparency and provide a roadmap for a fairer and more sustainable data and privacy model built around the rights of individuals about how their data is used.

Criticized for stifling innovation, GDPR is actually doing the opposite — it is catalyzing the private sector to start building new services that empower people directly with their data, competing both over how much value they can create for users if given access to their data while also showing what good stewards they can be of that data. It’s turning the “race to the bottom” we’ve seen around data and privacy into a much more enlightened and compelling “race to the top.”

Not surprisingly, the Chamber and most US companies have not been fans of GDPR. The lip service given in the principles to “privacy innovation” is a far cry from the vision and efforts underway in Europe, and nowhere do they reference our rights as citizens or consumers. In fact, as mentioned earlier, they only seek to limit those rights.

The most concerning potential development is the use of regulation shaped by these industry lobbying groups to further entrench their power and disadvantage startups and newcomers. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and others have been sounding the alarm on that possibility, and my read on the recent Congressional hearings by Facebook and Twitter is that this is their new strategy. In fact, the degree to which these privacy principles mimic the principles of GDPR while undermining them at every turn is nothing short of dastardly.

To conclude on a positive note, transparency is the single most important key to addressing the worst abuses around privacy and to unlocking a private sector competition to do right by users and their data. Despite 20 years with the curtains drawn tight around data collection and exploitation by industry, it’s simply un-American to stand against greater transparency — which is why both Republicans and Democrats are in favor of it.

Embracing the Chamber’s and the Internet Association’s call for transparency is the perfect jujitsu opportunity for those of us who want to see a more pro-user, pro-privacy model emerge. The real battle will be over just how far it goes, over how much we truly get to see and understand how our data is collected and for what purpose. Once that genie is out of the bottle, we can expect the private sector to get back to what it does best — creating even more incredible data-driven services that truly meet our needs and interests.

Digi.me going prime time

I had the chance yesterday to speak with Paula Newton on CNN’s Quest Means Business. I thought she was going to focus on the Congressional hearings earlier in the day with Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and Jack Dorsey of Twitter, but she really wanted to understand how digi.me works. She’s done quite a lot of stories on how our data and privacy is being abused by the big platforms, so it was refreshing to see her interest in solutions like ours.

We discussed our new app ecosystem, why it’s so interesting for developers, and how we empower people with their data if the data is already “out there” (a question I get all the time). You’ll have to watch the interview to learn more.

It was fun to visit the studio here in Washington. I was in the makeup room with Wolf Blitzer as the news of the mystery New York Times op-ed was breaking. Of course, the first tweet on my interview asked why CNN was talking about privacy and data given the other news. At least I didn’t get bumped!

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Trump’s right on this — it’s time to rip open the black box at Google, Facebook and Twitter

 

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It’s not often that I find myself siding with President Trump and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on technology policy. As we watch today’s congressional hearings with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey — and the “empty seat” for Google who refused to send a senior executive — they are dead right in their call for greater transparency. The stakes are just too high to continue to allow these mammoth platforms to decide behind closed doors how to collect data about us, filter the content we see and manipulate our decision making. Regulators must act, as they have done in Europe. So too must we as citizens.

I find it unlikely that these companies purposefully bias their search results and content feeds against Trump and Republicans. In fact, most evidence so far of the weaponization of Facebook by outside actors like the Russians and Cambridge Analytica shows that they have more often exploited the platforms to support Trump and his view of the world. But their algorithms certainly contain all kinds of biases that we need to understand, and the lack of transparency raises unanswerable questions that not only make such concerns possible, they prevent government and us as individuals from responding effectively.

And, make no mistake, these platforms were designed from the start to influence our thinking and behavior. Click by click, terabyte of data by terabyte of data, they track our every move, building sophisticated profiles of each of us to make it easier for content and advertising to reach us. In fact, the first big Facebook breach of trust was an internal Facebook project to see if they could affect a user’s emotions by elevating posts with happy or sad content. They were so proud they published their findings for other data scientists to review. Rather than see the project as a psychological study with human subjects requiring clear consent of the participants, Facebook saw it, as one executive told me at the time, “as what we do every day with A/B testing in advertising.”

It’s no accident that Mark Zuckerberg’s called the challenge of confronting Facebook in his op-ed in today’s Washington Post an “arms race.” Only the largest of organizations have the resources to even participate in such a vast and expensive exercise, structurally limiting the ability of new companies and ideas to emerge. Sheryl Sandberg’s testimony is a laundry list of initiatives Facebook has undertaken recently to address these threats, most of which should have been undertaken years ago when they were warned about these problems but chose to ignore them because it was bad for business. (I, like many others, met privately with Facebook in 2016 to express my concerns while also encouraging them to act publicly.)

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and others have rightfully warned that the massive efforts by the big platforms to shape privacy and data policy is designed to ensure their long-term domination, especially around ownership and control of our data. I share this concern, and saw it first hand in Europe five years ago while leading a data initiative at the World Economic Forum. Thankfully European regulators, backed by citizens voicing their deep concerns, managed to hash together a forward-looking set of laws that came into effect this past May (GDPR) predicated on transparency and users getting access to their data to use however they choose — and with absolutely clear consent.

The Congress and the Administration must insist on the same here in the United States. There simply isn’t any way we can continue on the current path, no matter how much Facebook, Twitter and Google say they can save us. Because “saving us” involves saving their business model, which created the problem in the first place. It’s time for new ideas and new solutions.

Facebook ignored recommendations from 2016 internal study on their data and privacy problem

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In early 2016, well after it learned about the massive scale violations by Cambridge Analytica of its user data, Facebook sanctioned an internal study about its approach to data and privacy. Led by its Deputy Chief Privacy Officer, the company convened a series of off-the-record workshops with 175 privacy and data professionals around the world.

Most of us were already well known for our concerns about Facebook’s approach to exploiting its vast troves of user data, but agreed to participate with the hope that we might help the company start acting more responsibly. The discussions were candid and hard hitting. We focused on the ethical and business challenges Facebook would face if were unable to reform itself. Many of us left encouraged.

Unlike most internal studies, Facebook decided, curiously, to produce a public version of their report, which I wrote about in June of that year. You can download a copy of the report here.

Against the recommendations of many of my colleagues, I publicly commended Facebook for such a thoughtful report and highlighted its findings about embracing greater transparency and control of data by users. Many of the ideas centered around new concepts of empowering users with their data and giving them agency over how and when it was used. A number of companies (including my own) were working on tools and business models that made that vision increasingly possible, and it was exciting to see such a decentralized, user-centric model articulated by Facebook.

I knew the findings would be hard for Facebook to implement in the short term, but viewed the report as being an important statement of where the company could go. Facebook was actually well positioned to take advantage of a new collaborative relationship with its users around data. I also sensed that the report represented an emerging, mostly European viewpoint inside the company, and wanted to do all I could to further their cause.

I went so far as to challenge Mark Zuckerberg directly:

“I hope Mark Zuckerberg reads it and internalizes its many good recommendations, especially given the powerful catalyzing role Facebook could play to empower people with data. It’s not just the right thing to do, it would be great for the company’s long-term business (oh, and for that pesky regulatory problem).”

I knew from my interactions at Facebook, including with board members and senior product and policy leaders, that without Zuckerberg’s full support, ideas so core to Facebook’s future would be dead on arrival.

Within a few months, it became clear that the report had indeed missed its mark. Follow up initiatives were either cancelled or redefined so narrowly that no one wanted to participate. People I reached out to at Facebook who should have known about the report said it hadn’t even registered on their radar. When I shared the specifics they simply responded “that does not reflect Mark’s thinking.”

At such a critical moment in the company’s future, I would strongly encourage the company to revisit its own recommendations. While centralized systems and tightly controlled companies can be effective in many contexts, Facebook has simply become too intertwined with how we live our lives to continue to operate that way.

This article originally appeared on Medium at this link.

The Personal Data Economy at K(NO)W Identity Conference

I was happy to take part in the inaugural K(NO)W Identity Conference, organized by several ex-Googlers through their new organization One World Identity.

Although it turned out to be one of the more thoughtful discussions I’ve participated in on the emerging personal data ecosystem (hats off to Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Rainey Reitman for excellent moderating), it also shows the challenges of discussing such a complex subject in a room full of folks working on identity, privacy, security and data.

The biggest area of misunderstanding remains around the many win-win benefits for both individuals and companies when users are empowered with their data. Watch the video and let me know what you think @shanegreen.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUhCVYUQ0vM

Today’s Facebook report on personal data & privacy gets a lot right

Is it a wolf in sheep’s clothing or a sign of enlightenment at the world’s largest collector of personal data?

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I must admit I was more than a little wary when I was invited by Facebook’s Global Deputy Chief Privacy Officer, Stephen Deadman, to participate in an off-the-record roundtable on the future of personal data and privacy. The involvement of the UK consulting firm helped convince me, given their long-time focus on building transparency and trust in this area. I’m glad I did.

I must admit I was more than a little wary when I was invited by Facebook’s Global Deputy Chief Privacy Officer, Stephen Deadman, to participate in an off-the-record roundtable on the future of personal data and privacy. The involvement of the UK consulting firm Ctrl-Shift helped convince me, given their long-time focus on building transparency and trust in this area. I’m glad I did.

Overshadowed by today’s announcement of 500 million Instagram users,Facebook released a report this morning called “A New Paradigm for Personal Data: Five Shifts to Drive Trust and Growth.” You can download it here: http://bit.ly/28L4HII or check out Deadman’s Op-Ed here:http://bit.ly/28LMDB9.

I hope Mark Zuckerberg reads it and internalizes its many good recommendations, especially given the powerful catalyzing role Facebook could play to empower people with data. It’s not just the right thing to do, it would be great for the company’s long-term business (oh, and for that pesky regulatory problem).

While much of the report’s thinking has been articulated previously, including by Ctrl-Shift, the Personal Data Ecosystem Consortium (where Personal, Inc. was a founding member), the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Data and The Aspen Institute’s Communications & Society Program (both of which I participated in), it matters that Facebook spent its time and energy to convene so many trusted experts — 175 in all across 21 global roundtables — and to publish such a thoughtful and balanced report.

Unlike regulators, privacy and security advocates or most any industry player, no matter how large, Facebook is in a unique position to put the tools directly into the hands of their users and provide powerful direct and indirect incentives for them to start becoming hubs for their data.

In this model, users could re-use their data in a permission-based way, and in infinite combinations, across the entire connected universe at home, work and everywhere in between. It would be the ultimate democratization of data in a fair and transparent ecosystem where individuals actively decide when, where and how to participate in a robust value exchange tied to their data.

So why would Facebook take such a risk when its current business model is built on its ownership and control of user data?

Deadman answers that question in the introduction to the new report:

My observation from the years I’ve spent working on privacy and data related issues is that the personal data debate has been largely grounded in a limiting premise – that the desire to innovate with data is generally incompatible with preserving individuals’ rights to privacy and self-determination.

This premise is entrenched by regulators, policymakers and industry, as we tend to talk in terms of trade-offs, as though these two equally desirable goals will always be in tension with each other, and our only choice is to balance them off against each other.

I firmly believe that such trade-off thinking is undesirable – it leads to suboptimal outcomes – and I also believe it’s unnecessary: we now have the skills, technology and motivation to transcend this supposed trade-off.

He goes further:

The debate also entrenches an assumption that only organisations can control data, ignoring the ability and potential of individuals to take a more active role, exercising agency, choice and control over their own data.

I don’t think the evidence supports this assumption. What is more, when people have more control over their own data, more growth, innovation and value can be created than when they don’t.

It’s this very last point that will win the day. There is simply more opportunity to innovate and create value when individuals are empowered in this way. No single company, or government for that matter, can ever match the competitive advantage of individuals (or teams of individuals) to aggregate and permission access to the constantly growing and changing data from across their lives — including their connected devices.

And those who try to keep the individual out of the equation risk being punished as this new model emerges. Data collection, use and monetization simply can’t be kept behind the curtains much longer. Deadman is right to draw Facebook’s attention to both the opportunity — and the risk — of not embracing the rightful role of users.

There is also a surprising set of security benefits of a model with less standalone copies of data in the world, especially when the data that is shared on a session basis and comes networked with real-time validation and authentication. The future would not only be more secure with this approach, it also happens to be in the interest of the world’s largest identity provider.

In our own business, we are seeing this user-centric model starting to take root inside the workplace by and between employees. The enterprise is one of the few places where the need for individuals to practice active data management and data security is both understood and able to be mandated. It’s probably no accident that the Facebook at Work solution is one of the company’s biggest new initiatives.

The report finishes with grand brush strokes, painting a vision of a race to the top among companies who compete for access to user data based on trust, transparency and the value they can deliver. These market-based solutions have all the elements of the “digital enlightenment” many of us have been talking about for a long time.

For those of you worried that Facebook is simply trying to co-opt this new model before it is even established, or use it as a shield to avoid regulation, I understand the concern. But I really don’t think there will be any going back once it happens. As people wake up and experience the magic of having their data go to work for them, they will never be passive about their data or oblivious to its value again.

While Facebook has a lot to gain by being a leader, it has even more to lose by being seen by its community of users as holding them back. I applaud Deadman and his colleagues for taking such a bold position.

This post was originally published here on Medium.

A Rising Tide of Data, Partnered With Privacy by Design, Will Lift All Boats

This piece was originally published on the Disruptive Competition Project blog (DisCo).

 
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By Dr. Ann Cavoukian and Shane Green

Over the last year, we have started to see a remarkable shift in the way the world thinks about data and privacy. The old levies of compliance and binary permission settings are being washed away by a rising tide of data that is growing at a rate exceeding Moore’s Law.

In fact, more data will be created and captured this year than in all of human history. Fueling this explosion are connected devices so numerous that, according to a recent GSMA study, there will be more such devices throwing off data this year than there are people in the world.

In this rapidly changing data ecosystem, tools such as one-time notice-and-consent agreements and simple transparent disclosures are less helpful, perhaps becoming obsolete. Individuals can no longer be treated as passive data subjects who merely provide information for collection and use by an organization. Instead, more sophisticated approaches are required based on context-based approvals and, more importantly, informed individuals who are engaged with their data across their lives.

We too must evolve, and those companies and organizations that empower individuals to be full partners in this emerging personal data ecosystem will create tremendous value in the form of stronger, deeper and trusted relationships with their customers, thereby gaining new competitive advantages, including greater, not less, access to data.

The latest signs that these once revolutionary ideas are today becoming mainstream, and will tomorrow become the standard for doing business, are two recent reports by centrist, pro-business think tanks. Continue reading