From 5 to 7 February, the second working group of the Digital Future Society Think Tank held their working meeting in Barcelona.
Working under the theme of digital trust and security, seven experts met to discuss challenges and opportunities of data ethics and privacy in the private and public sector.
The landscape of data ethics is complex and many challenges emerge when trying to define and engage with it, especially when artificial intelligence is involved. While data can be a force for good that unlocks valuable insights and forms the basis for new knowledge, it also raises crucial questions around ethics of its use, freedom and governance. The main ethical challenges are three-fold: the ethics of the data used; the ethics of how algorithms are built and trained; and by whom, i.e. the ethical practices and interests of the stakeholders involved.
When it comes to the idea of privacy itself, critics argue for a need to think far beyond the traditional notions of consent and consider the impact of technology on our autonomy, power and individual agency as citizens. This is especially true for vulnerable populations, whose expectation of privacy is very much influenced by the amount of economic or political power they hold.
In this working group, the Digital Future Society Think Tank challenges participants to explore the practical solutions that lie beyond data access, ownership and consent – especially in a post-GDPR world. We seek answers to questions like:
- How should private entities deal with the ethical challenges of data, privacy and security?
- Given their dual role of users and regulators of data, how should governments respond to ethical challenges?
Who was in the room?
The first digital trust and security working group was composed of experts from the public sector, private sector, academia and civil society organisations, each working directly with data issues and applications, including:
- Fabro Steibel – Executive Director, ITS Rio (Brazil)
- Lavinia Marin – Lecturer, TU Delft (The Netherlands)
- Atia Cortes – Associate Professor, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (Spain)
- Marc Blasi – Big Data Project Manager, Caixabank (Spain)
- Victoria Anderica – Transparency Project Director, Madrid City Council (Spain)
- Marc Torrent – Director, Big Data Center of Excellence, Eurecat (Spain)
- Artur Serra – Deputy Director, i2CAT Foundation (Spain)
The working group members were joined by members of the Digital Future Society core team as well as facilitators.
Day 1: Understanding the evolution, risks and challenges of data and privacy
Participants kicked off Day 1 by introducing each other and their work in the context of the theme by sharing concrete examples, success stories and case studies, followed by a collective mapping exercise. The idea was to understand how data ethics and privacy in the digital world has evolved (especially since the landmark GDPR legislation went into effect in Europe), who the main players are in terms of developing data ethics frameworks and guidelines, and the key concerns addressed by related projects and initiatives.
The second half of Day 1 was spent focusing on the challenges and opportunities related to data ethics and digital privacy through an in-depth exploration of the scope of these projects and the associated impacts. As participants continued to share best practices, regulatory initiatives and policy frameworks, the conversation was documented by a graphic illustrator.
Day 2: Scenario planning and imagining 2030
During Day 2, participants were challenged to start imagining the consequences and opportunities of different future scenarios: in which data and even algorithms could be completely owned by citizens or by corporations, and the level of social engagement in data ethics and privacy issues (from active involvement to indifference). Participants were invited to apply each scenario to the situation of four distinct personas who are typically excluded from such policy discussions. Again, the conversations, inputs, ideas and outcomes were captured by a graphic illustrator:
The research agenda of this working group and the Digital Future Society Think Tank as a whole is both substantial and urgent. The issues raised on the ethics and impact of technology and personal data are playing out now, not in some distant future. For this reason, building new communities and modes of inquiry and connecting them to the public interest is our top priority in shaping a better digital future society.
To learn more about the Digital Future Society Think Tank, download our position paper here.
Interested in learning more about this topic? Check out the following resources on data ethics and the challenge of digital privacy:
- AI: The Data Ethics Perspective – Gry Hasselbalch
- How to think about data in 2019 – The Economist
- Your digital identity has three layers, and you can only protect one of them – Quartz
- AI Ethics: Seven Traps – Freedom to Tinker
- Your apps know where you were last night, and they’re not keeping it secret – New York Times
- Data ethics in the age of quantified society – Aspen Ideas Festival
- Introduction to data ethics – Odyssey Learning Project
- Four essential rights of data privacy – Tim Cook keynote at the 2018 International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners
- Data Ethics – The New Competitive Advantage (free PDF copy)
- The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power – Shoshana Zuboff