From the 25th to the 28th of October 2022, the Global Privacy Assembly (GPA) took place in Istanbul, Turkey. For its 44th edition, the GPA invited a panel of 49 speakers – all experts in the field of privacy. I attended the first two days of the Assembly.  

This year’s main topic, “A Matter of Balance: Privacy in the Era of Rapid Technological Advancement” is a core concern at FERRONATO: Staying in control of our online presence while keeping our privacy safe. Enlightening sessions at the GPA tackled various themes connected to FERRONATO, such as the uncontrolled use of our data, the mass surveillance served by tracking technologies, and the healthier relationship we need to find with technology.  

 

Privacy concerns of Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) 

A panel on FRT was moderated by Marc Rotenberg, Director of the Center for AI and Digital Policy. Four professionals in the field exchanged their views regarding the concerns that Facial Recognition Technology applications raise. This “scary technology”, as it was referred to by Mr Rotenberg, is used for purposes such as verification and identification. Two images are matched to verify whether they are the same, and to positively identify a certain individual. In this session, the discussion was directed towards ethical and regulatory principles that need to be followed by both public and private sectors for the use of this technology, in a manner that would not infringe upon fundamental rights, and not lead to discrimination.  

“We are at a point in 2022 where we find certain technologies, such as Facial Recognition or biometrical recognition, unacceptable when they are used for mass surveillance” affirmed Catherine Jasserand, Postdoctoral Researcher at the KU Leuven Centre for IT&IP Law.  

“Those technologies should be in place to make our lives better and not to oppress or exploit us in ways that unfortunately sometimes happen.” said Brenda Leong, Partner at BNH.AI Law Firm.  

Although I am only too aware that the use of my phone raises privacy issues, listening to this extraordinarily well-informed panel confirmed the level of surveillance we are under. My phone camera uses FRT to unlock my device whenever I need to use it, and like others in a similar position, this can make me an easy target of unwarranted surveillance.    

 

Mass Surveillance on the web 

Tracking on the internet is carried out in an increasingly invisible and opaque way for the data subjects. The panel on mass surveillance on the web was chaired by Brent R. Homan, Deputy Commissioner at the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. He invited the speakers to debate the necessity of tracking, and measures for transparency. 

A contribution from Luis de Salvador Carrasco, Director of Technological Innovation Division at the Spanish Data Protection Authority (AEPD), was strikingly clear.

“The use of technologies is not an option anymore; we have lost the freedom to use them (or to not use them)” he said. “We hear a lot that this massive collection of data can bring a lot of benefits to companies and to digital marketing, but I think there is a huge misunderstanding when we associate mass surveillance with benefits for digital marketing. It is possible to benefit companies without mass surveillance, it is simply a question of balance which can be achieved through ethical actions.” 

Mr de Salvador Carrasco also referenced a term that stayed with me: “Privacy washing”. We live in an era in which we continuously hear companies tell us how they care about our privacy.  And yet, they make it difficult for us to refuse their request to track us on their app, citing that doing so would give us “better results”. Hearing this expression from a professional in the field of privacy certainly struck a chord with me. 

 

Digitalisation and Privacy: Building trust for individuals 

In this keynote, presented by Perihan Elif Ekmekci, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the TOBB University of Economics and Technology, the topic of trust was covered in an interesting manner. In the light of recent technological advancements, it is highly relevant to raise the question of trust and what it means to us. As mentioned previously in the debate on mass surveillance, the need to use modern technologies is beyond dispute. However, there is an imbalance between the need for us to use those technologies, and the level of trust we can place in them. 

The presentation drew a very interesting distinction between the terms “trusting” and “relying on”. As Professor Ekmekci noted, “We can rely on some technologies because we need them in our daily life, but we don’t necessarily trust them.”  

This is where moral issues arise in the use of technologies today. To mention a few, the impossibility of anonymise oneself is one, the difficulty of having informed consent, the discrimination and stigmatisation are others we can find.  

The keynote made me reflect on the balance we need to find in our use of technologies and the trust we can place in them. Taking back control of our privacy would certainly give us more trust in our use of technology.  

 

Other very captivating panels and keynotes were given throughout this seminal event for privacy professionals, there were many panel discussions, and memorable keynotes given. The assessment of emerging technologies in the light of privacy principles gave me fresh insight regarding the role of innovation. As Ann Cavoukian, Executive Director at the Global Privacy & Security by Design Center put it, “privacy breathes innovation.”. New technologies need to be designed with privacy principles in mind. I believe this is a mission that we, at FERRONATO, embrace wholeheartedly. The digital world is growing exponentially, and rules are increasingly difficult to apply. Our purpose is to find new ways to regain control of our privacy, on our own terms.

 

 

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