An interview with Adrian Turner on privacy

By May 25th, 2018

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, OAIC, have created a week dedicated to focus on the need for organisations to develop and re-assess systems, processes, culture and practice to make sure they put their customers’ personal information first. Alongside this is the budget news that Data61 will be consulting on the technical standards for Open Banking, alongside the broader legislation of a ‘Consumer Data Right’ – a key element in the story of privacy, data control and consumer rights the digital age.

We spoke to Adrian TurnerData61’s CEO, to dig into why we’re focusing research on this area, and what it means for businesses, governments and citizens. The videos, and a lightly edited transcript (for brevity), are below.

Introduction to Privacy Awareness Week

This week is Privacy Awareness Week, with a theme of putting principles into practice. It’s a great opportunity for organisations to really take a step back and think about how they handle personal information and whether they’re completely transparent with customers and stakeholders about the way they treat personal information.

This is going to become increasingly important as trust becomes the currency of a data-driven world. If companies overreach in terms of expectations, obligations, even regulatory requirements, that trust will be breached and it will be damaging.

The flip side is if companies really get proactive and even hold themselves to a higher standard than is being asked of them, it’s an opportunity to build trust with the customers and with stakeholders. From a personal point of view, this week is an opportunity to take a step back and really think about how you treat privacy, what information you share with third parties (including service providers), and whether you fully internalise and appreciate the value of your own personal data.

Data61 is working on privacy related research streams and for us privacy is incredibly important. We’re moving to a world where there’s going to be, increasingly, regulation about how data can be used as well as community expectations. The ability to derive insight without ever accessing the underlying data (that can be personally identifiable) is going to be incredible for the world we’re moving to.

What’s missing from the privacy debate?

So, what’s missing from the debate around privacy right now is if you think about the businesses online that we engage with as consumers, they’re primarily information businesses around messaging or communications or media. But the next wave of companies that we’re going to engage deeply with are going to be around things that are not just mission-critical but life critical.

I think we’re just starting to appreciate how valuable our personal data is. Particularly when there’s algorithmic decision-making around or making use of that data and the outcomes of those automated decisions have real-world and personal implications.

An example of that is if we think about credit scoring. Increasingly, there will be algorithmic decision-making around creditworthiness. That impacts our personal life and our personal ability to get credit or borrow money. Increasingly there will be alternate types of data that go into those models to assess creditworthiness. So a piece of data or a piece of information about ourselves, we may not view as valuable, but in a certain context that can have meaningful life implications back for us.

We need heightened awareness. We also need principles that are agreed to across industry and across service providers. The bar needs to be higher and up until this point there really hasn’t been any sort of widespread regulation around the responsibility that some of these service providers have.

They’re becoming so large and so integral to our lives. The Facebooks of the world will become so large and integral that there really does need to be some checks and balances, to ensure they treat data in an ethical way and in a transparent way, and in a way that those automated decisions can be can be challenged.

Consumer data rights

So, there’s a shift in Australia towards increased consumer rights around data protection, which is a real positive and it’s recognising that the data really belongs with the individual. The individual should have rights over the data that they produce, and what we’re seeing in a lot of these existing and early data driven industry sectors is they tend to have naturally monopolistic tendencies because that data is used to inform automated decision making.

The more data, the more fine-grain the improvements in the decision-making that lead to new service offerings that create barriers to entry for others. So you have these data feedback loops that result in naturally monopolistic tendencies and that can really inhibit competition which is a problem.

There’s also a big emphasis around data portability. Not just portability of a profile – also portability of transaction history so that a competing provider can make a more informed offer of a package of services to compete with the incumbent. hat’s good for the consumer.

Social licence to operate

There’s no doubt that social licence to operate will be impacted by how companies utilise data.

There’ll be a direct correlation. If we think of cybersecurity as the technology to protect the data, privacy is about policies that define the circumstances under which that data can be shared or accessed either by the company or by external stakeholders. The way that companies approach this will directly impact whether customers and partners want to continue to do business with them.

There’s nothing more important right now for companies than to be thinking about how they handle data as an asset and how they handle data in the context of their customer relations.

Data61’s technology solutions

We’re developing privacy-preserving technology that allows an organisation to derive insight without moving the data or centralising the data leaving the data in situ. With regards to being able to derive insight across encrypted data without getting exposed to personally identifiable information, this is going to be profound and this is why we’re focused so heavily on that as a research stream.

What it could do is change the underlying economics and economic structures for platforms. It has the potential to move the world from a vertically integrated platform model where a single entity concentrates value to themselves to a more distributed cooperative style of infrastructure where it’s shared among multiple participants in an industry sector and it’s more like ‘platform cooperatives’.

We think that that’s a much better model for more even wealth distribution and participation by many more entities. We think it’s going to spawn higher levels of innovation as well – having more open systems rather than closed proprietary vertically integrated platforms that exist today. The privacy-preserving technology and research that we’re working on is a fundamental key to unlock that value.