How much privacy do we need? John Taysom addresses the Turing Institute’s Financial Summit

By Privitar - November 09, 2015

On the 14th October, John Taysom addressed the Turing Institute’s Financial Summit at the British Library. This was a gathering of some of the UK’s most prominent and influential thinkers in the financial, data and security sectors. The latest issues and uses of financial data were discussed, including how the Institute’s work in data science could benefit the UK’s financial services sector.

In his speech, John discussed the broad subject of data privacy in a digital age. John chose to approach the subject, not from whether privacy is good or bad, if data is useful or overhyped, but instead to ask: how much privacy do we need?

John commented: “’You don’t need privacy if you have nothing to hide’ is the Orwellian extreme of the argument which says that in an age of data saturation, privacy is a somewhat anachronistic concept. The concern only of the somewhat shady.

“When we say this, however, we are not really talking about privacy at all. We are in fact talking about secrecy. Privacy is something else, something a little more nuanced. Daniel Solove, author of the 2008 book, Understanding Privacy, defined six forms of privacy. These stretch from the ability to limit access from others to ourselves; to the ability to control our intimate relationships and even control over our own sense of self. Privacy must not be discounted as old fashioned. It is essential if we are to live rounded, fulfilled and connected lives.

 

“That isn’t to say we ought to adopt a tin hat wearing suspicion of any and every attempt from companies and governments to collect our data. Clearly there are many benefits, both societal and personal, to the big data world. Organisations are constantly using our data to create products and services which are better connected to our needs as consumers, more responsive to our individual preferences and better able to adapt to our changing circumstances.

“Instead, the conversation needs to move away from a binary decision between giving over data and protecting privacy. Rather we should rebalance the discussion of privacy as a balance of risk and reward; a constantly reassessed trade off between our very human need for privacy and the convenience and innovation which data sharing drives.

“Technological solutions, such as Privitar, can be of great assistance when it comes to minimising these privacy risks. The value of an individual’s data is held, not in their distinctive qualities, but in the ways in which they are similar to others. Once we understand this – that it is the ‘crowd’ and not the individual which is of value – we can use technology to merge individual’s data into crowds of similar characteristics and thus retain the data’s utility while removing the risk to the individual’s privacy.

“By understanding that a person’s data is valuable only within and in direct proportion to its larger crowd, it is possible to begin to look at ways to attach hard monetary values to this data. Far outstripping any physical assets they own, the knowledge companies hold on their users is now often their most valuable asset. Currently this information capital is completely absent from balance sheets and analyst reports. The next stage for data, and for privacy, will be to look at serious and rigorous ways of quantifying the value of information capital.”