by Robin Austin

As AI/ML permeates our lives, is privacy a thing of the past?

Jun 27, 2019
Artificial IntelligenceMachine LearningPrivacy

The World Economic Forum has brought together the most influential scientists, economists and entrepreneurs to deliberate on the positive and negative aspects of our digital future living and being in what we collectively are calling the age of the 4th Industrial Revolution. Although AI and ML have many positive applications, there are those who fear losing their privacy to AI/MLu2019s invasiveness, to governments implementing AI/ML seeking economic domination, to organized crime cyber-thieves seeking financial gain or to the lawyers who too seek financial gain from AI/ML oversite and pervasiveness.

Debates on privacy continue between the business tech titans and the policy/lawmakers. Some tech titans, like billionaire Elon Musk, warn against the ensuing crisis of AI/ML – but they are in the minority. Too much good can be created and above all too much money can be made. There is a belief that the country that achieves more in AI/ML will dominate the world’s economy. So, it’s not a question of if but when freedom and privacy may be sacrificed on the road to “bigger, better and faster.”

Are we headed for a privacy disaster with AI/ML?

AI/ML needs massive amounts of your data to effectively analyze your behavior. The concern is that AI/ML becomes so precise in its ability to predict your actions that an AI/ML machine will think and act along a path predicting your future actions. There is no privacy with AI/ML due to its ability to predict an infinite number of steps ahead of you based on your predetermined actions; mimicking your future behavior, along each step’s path. Although it’s 2019, George Orwell in his book 1984 (published in 1949), warned of the possible risks that could lead to repressive and regimented actions. Could the achievements in the 4th Industrial Revolution end in disaster with the machines dominating humans? Well, it might be the few tyrannical humans who control the machines who control the rest of us.

Musk is best known for his SpaceX venture and his pursuit of electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing. By forming OpenAI, a non-profit for the safe development if AI/ML and quoting Stephen Hawking saying, “Prof Stephen Hawking, one of Britain’s pre-eminent scientists, has said that efforts to create thinking machines pose a threat to our very existence,” Musk is somewhat a voice in the wilderness. Stephen Hawking, in an interview at BBC, said “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

While policymakers lean, unsurprisingly, toward lawmaking, law breakers speed past the slow, chaotic, paper shuffling, argumentative regulators who propose increased regulations to gain control that the tech titans would agree only “restricts innovation.” Many people of common sense agree that required compliance regulations deter investment, stunts growth and increases costs. Although we would all agree that locks on our doors act as theft deterrents, regulations resemble and are just about as affective as “data locks” on online doors.

If thieves steal from you, a law or regulation allows you legal action against the thief. Truthfully, from personal experience, legal action is only as effective as your lawyer, only as credible as your pocketbook and only as consequential producing very limited results; results with the plaintiff recovering a very limited amount a very small percentage of the time. It seems our legal system favors the thieves with the thieves manipulating our legal system in their favor more often than not.  In other words, in more ways than one, the thieves’ risks are very low while the victim’s risks are very high. Laws and regulations, although legally actionable, require so much additional investment in money, resources and time that many businesses write off the theft as a loss-of-funds instead of pursuing recovery.  Predators (thieves) have a much higher success rate than the public. 

Today, the majority of individuals have stated that protection of their personal data is important to them and it should be under their control. An overwhelming majority of the public elects to choose who collects their personal information, who shares their personal information and where it resides. “Elects” is usually in the form of an opt-in in real time. A Harris Poll sponsored by Business Week showed that at least 86% of the public polled agrees and gives permission by choosing to opt-in before the collection and sharing of their personal data: name, address, phone, email and financial information. In a CNN Poll, over 90% of the public polled required opt-in status before the sale of their personal information.

Unfortunately, unless you opt-in, many websites will not let you continue on the site so most “click” on the request for opt-in without thinking and truly knowing what it means. In other words, if you want to research or buy a specific website’s products and services, you are required to opt-in which allows them to use your data as they see fit.

Most don’t read the terms and conditions affiliated with the opt-in or even the company’s privacy policy prior to doing business with the website. Legally, you have just given them permission to use your data and you no longer have any recourse. Once you opt-in, your data will be shared everywhere, and it no longer is your data.  As long as the company who owns the website publishes their policies and they can show they are compliant with operating regulations, they are safe from legal action.

The FTC is on the front privacy and security lines

The past several years, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been kept very busy even overwhelmed at times being the watch dog for internet consumers. The FTC will be hosting its fourth annual PrivacyCon on June 27, 2019 in Washington, D.C. that is open and free to the public to address:

  • Emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality/ virtual reality (AR/VR) and the privacy and security concerns facing the public today and in the future
  • The benefits and costs for consumer data privacy
  • The possible incentives for deigning and maintain consumer privacy and security within DevOps and within the supply chain for manufacturers’ goods or services
  • The current practices implemented for the protection of consumers data privacy and data security

The FTC safeguards the public’s privacy and security through certain privacy statutes and rules, including the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act. If a company violates an FTC mandate, the FTC can seek civil monetary penalties for the violations as well as require the company to put safeguards in place and prove corrective action has been taken to prevent any continued or new unlawful behavior.

Every day, the public’s false sense of security is being shattered by a feeling of futility that permeates not only website activities but in our total way of life. Perpetrators and predators count on the public’s ignorance of ever-changing privacy laws and compliance regulations. Even those professed professionals who may have obtained a law degree, a CISSP accreditation and all of the other four-letter security acronyms can’t get ahead of the hackers, thieves and con artists so, how can a 75-year-old man or women wanting to buy their groceries on-line and delivered to their residence?

Common sense holds that privacy self-regulation for the public is inadequate and companies are treading water at best. Many Internet users have no idea what a “cookie” is so understanding “malware”, “ransom ware”, “spyware” or the most recent “data extrusion”, “data exportation” or “data exfiltration” is very problematic. Companies hire specialized risk, compliance and cybersecurity professionals to administer privacy regulations under governance and stated policies. Even the professionals are overwhelmed by constant threat, by constant changes in regulations and by the lack of availability of sophisticated cybersecurity personnel.

By choosing to use online services and opting-in consumers are unaware of the terms and conditions of the contract they just signed. Free is never free. Online use alone sacrifices their anonymity to Google and Facebook and legally allows these online and social media sites and their partners’ permission to follow consumers’ behavior patterns for possible advertising and sales.

Only limited “blocking” of these activities exist for consumers with regulators debating how to solve the problem effectively. A suggestion has been made that online sites charge for membership with the caveat that they keep their members data private but that has not made much headway. You and your data provide a lucrative income stream for online sites as well as for the thieves and con artists. As long as you choose to opt-in, privacy will be a figment of your imagination.Top of Form