Data-driven innovation is possible without infringing on privacy

Stephen Deadman says for a start, complicated privacy policies must make way for a better design that helps people understand the choices and control they have over their information

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 September, 2017, 10:45am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 September, 2017, 7:15pm

Data is transforming our lives, creating huge opportunities to improve our societies, drive economic growth and empower individuals. Personal data enables us to do amazing things – from delivering personalised health care, to coordinating disaster relief and planning greener cities.

To seize these opportunities, we need to help people understand why and how their information is used and the choices and controls they have.

Facebook wants to support Hong Kong’s commitment to unlocking the potential of data. For the first time, we are hosting leading experts in Hong Kong for a workshop on “Building Impact with Data” where we’ll showcase some best practices and present a number of Facebook projects that are intended to create value for society from data, such as disaster maps. The workshop takes place during the International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners, which Hong Kong is hosting this week. The last time this gathering was held here was in 1999. Since then, technological innovation has led to previously unimaginable advances. People want to embrace these advances – but they also want control over their privacy.

Watch: How Facebook uses data to help communities to rebuild

Ensuring we achieve both the protection of privacy and enable innovation must be a priority. Earlier this year, we worked with the Progressive Policy Institute on a report that showed how, when privacy regulation is in harmony with economic and social policymaking, huge benefits are unlocked.

Innovation through personal data depends on people’s trust. And the most effective way to build and maintain trust is by creating effective transparency and giving people control over their data. That’s something we have to think hard about at Facebook. After all, Facebook can only thrive if people feel empowered to share, knowing they have choices about who sees what and that they can change their minds.

But building effective transparency and putting people in control of their data is not easy; it takes a lot of research into people’s needs and expectations, it requires innovation and experimentation, and necessitates an acknowledgement that there is no silver bullet.

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Last year, as a part of a series of round tables with leading experts around the world, we convened a round table in Hong Kong, including Hong Kong’s privacy commissioner Stephen Wong Kai-yi, to discuss how we can ensure data-driven innovation can thrive while building and maintaining people’s trust. Those discussions yielded important insights. One was that design is a fundamental yet often overlooked aspect of building effective transparency and control.

In every sector, companies are developing ever smarter technologies that operate intuitively – no one needs to read a long user manual before using their new smartphone. Yet, that’s what we still expect people to do when it comes to their data – we expect people to read long privacy policies and grapple with many complex decisions. Understanding the choices you have over the information that’s powering technology should be as easy as using the technology itself.

Watch: ‘Design Jam’ in Berlin, March 2017

We need to start with an understanding of how people actually behave, how they want to receive information and what sort of control they want to have. To that end, we’ve helped pioneer a new approach to building trust, transparency and control over data. “Design Jams” are collaborative workshops that bring together designers, developers, engineers, and policy and privacy experts from across government, academia and industry to use design thinking to create new solutions. So far, Design Jams have taken place in Berlin, Paris, Brussels and Sao Paulo, and we’re now excited to be holding our first a mini Design Jam in Asia, as part of the data protection conference in Hong Kong this week.

Privacy is by no means a zero-sum game. New start-ups are emerging, whose business models are built on putting people in charge of their data. We’re on the cusp of a win-win situation, where giving people the control they want and enabling data-driven innovation continually reinforce each other.

Stephen Deadman is global deputy chief privacy officer for Facebook