Firstly, I appreciated the dynamic and interesting youth panel. Young people, themselves involved in youth work, or early researchers on a range of topics. Panelists shared their thoughts on:
Removal of gang databases and systemic racial targeting
Questions over online content takedown with the general assumption that “someone’s got to do it.”
The purposes of Religious Education and lack of religious understanding as cause of prejudice, discrimination, and fear.
From these connections comes trust.
Next, Simon Chambers, from the British Council, UK National Youth Agency, and Erasmus UK, talked about the programme of Erasmus Plus, under the striking sub theme, from these connections comes trust.
42% of the world’s population are under 25
Young people understand that there are wider, underlying complex factors in this area and are disproportionately affected by conflict, economic change and environmental disaster.
Many young people struggle to access education and decent work.
Young people everywhere can feel unheard and excluded from decision-making — their experience leads to disaffection and grievance, and sometimes to conflict.
We then heard a senior Home Office presenter speak about Radicalisation: the threat, drivers and Prevent programme.
On Contest 2018 Prevent / Pursue / Protect and Prepare
What was perhaps most surprising was his statement that the programme believes there is no checklist, [but in reality there are checklists] no single profile, or conveyer belt towards radicalisation.
“This shouldn’t be seen as some sort of predictive model,” he said. “It is not accurate to say that somehow we can predict who is going to become a terrorist, because they’ve got poor education levels, or because necessarily have a deprived background.”
But he then went on to again highlight the list of identified vulnerabilities in Thomas Mair‘s life, which suggests that these characteristics are indeed seen as indicators.
When I look at the ‘safeguarding-in-school’ software that is using vulnerabilities as signals for exactly that kind of prediction of intent, the gap between theory and practice here, is deeply problematic.
One slide included Internet content take downs, and suggested 300K pieces of illegal terrorist material have been removed since February 2010. That number he later suggested are contact with CTIRU, rather than content removal defined as a particular form. (For example it isn’t clear if this is a picture, a page, or whole site). This is still somewhat unclear and there remain important open questions, given its focus in the online harms policy and discussion.
The big gap that was not discussed and that I believe matters, is how much autonomy teachers have, for example, to make a referral. He suggested “some teachers may feel confident” to do what is needed on their own but others, “may need help” and therefore make a referral. Statistics on those decision processes are missing, and it is very likely I believe that over referral is in part as a result of fearing that non-referral, once a computer has tagged issues as Prevent related, would be seen as negligent, or not meeting the statutory Prevent duty as it applies to schools.
Safeguarding children and young people from radicalisation
Mark Chalmers of Westminster City Council., then spoke about ‘safeguarding children and young people from radicalisation.’
He started off with a profile of the local authority demographic, poverty and wealth, migrant turnover, proportion of non-English speaking households. This of itself may seem indicative of deliberate or unconscious bias.
He suggested that Prevent is not a security response, and expects that the policing role in Prevent will be reduced over time, as more is taken over by Local Authority staff and the public services. [Note: this seems inevitable after the changes in the 2019 Counter Terrorism Act, to enable local authorities, as well as the police, to refer persons at risk of being drawn into terrorism to local channel panels. Should this have happened at all, was not consulted on as far as I know]. This claim that Prevent is not a security response, appears different in practice, when Local Authorities refuse FOI questions on the basis of security exemptions in the FOI Act, Section 24(1).
Both speakers declined to accept my suggestion that Prevent and Channel is not consensual. Participation in the programme, they were adamant is voluntary and confidential. The reality is that children do not feel they can make a freely given informed choice, in the face of an authority and the severity of the referral. They also do not understand where their records go to, how confidential are they really, and how long they are kept or why.
The recently concluded legal case and lengths one individual had to go to, to remove their personal record from the Prevent national database, shows just how problematic the mistaken perception of a consensual programme by authorities is.
I knew nothing of the Prevent programme at all in 2015. I only began to hear about it once I started mapping the data flows into, across and out of the state education sector, and teachers started coming to me with stories from their schools.
I found it fascinating to hear those speak at the conference that are so embedded in the programme. They seem unable to see it objectively or able to accept others’ critical point of view as truth. It stems perhaps from the luxury of having the privilege of believing you yourself, will be unaffected by its consequences.
“Yes,” said O’Brien, “we can turn it off. We have that privilege” (1984)
There was no ground given at all for accepting that there are deep flaws in practice. That in fact ‘Prevent is having the opposite of its intended effect: by dividing, stigmatising and alienating segments of the population, Prevent could end up promoting extremism, rather than countering it’ as concluded in the 2016 report Preventing Education: Human Rights and Countering terrorism in UK Schools by Rights Watch UK .
Mark Chalmers conclusion was to suggest perhaps Prevent is not always going to be the current form, of bolt on ‘big programme’ and instead would be just like any other form of child protection, like FGM. That would mean every public sector worker, becomes an extended arm of the Home Office policy, expected to act in counter terrorism efforts.
But the training, the nuance, the level of application of autonomy that the speakers believe exists in staff and in children is imagined. The trust between authorities and people who need shelter, safety, medical care or schooling must be upheld for the public good.
No one asked, if and how children should be seen through the lens of terrorism, extremism and radicalisation at all. No one asked if and how every child, should be able to be surveilled online by school imposed software and covert photos taken through the webcam in the name of children’s safeguarding. Or labelled in school, associated with ‘terrorist.’ What happens when that prevents trust, and who measures its harm?
[click to view larger file]
Far too little is known about who and how makes decisions about the lives of others, the criteria for defining inappropriate activity or referrals, or the opacity of decisions on online content.
What effects will the Prevent programme have on our current and future society, where everyone is expected to surveil and inform upon each other? Failure to do so, to uphold the Prevent duty, becomes civic failure. How is curiosity and intent separated? How do we safeguard children from risk (that is not harm) and protect their childhood experiences, their free and full development of self?
No one wants children to be caught up in activities or radicalisation into terror groups. But is this the correct way to solve it?
“The research provides new evidence that by attempting to profile and predict violent youth radicalisation, we may in fact be breeding the very reasons that lead those at risk to violent acts.” (Professor Theo Gavrielides).
Current case studies of lived experience, and history also say it is mistaken. Prevent when it comes to children, and schools, needs massive reform, at very least, but those most in favour of how it works today, aren’t the ones who can be involved in its reshaping.
“Who denounced you?” said Winston.
“It was my little daughter,” said Parsons with a sort of doleful pride. “She listened at the keyhole. Heard what I was saying, and nipped off to the patrols the very next day. Pretty smart for a nipper of seven, eh? I don’t bear her any grudge for it. In fact I’m proud of her. It shows I brought her up in the right spirit, anyway.” (1984).
The event was the launch of the European study on violent youth radicalisation from YEIP: The project investigated the attitudes and knowledge of young Europeans, youth workers and other practitioners, while testing tools for addressing the phenomenon through positive psychology and the application of the Good Lives Model.
Its findings include that young people at risk of violent radicalisation are “managed” by the existing justice system as “risks”. This creates further alienation and division, while recidivism rates continue to spiral.
“The consent model is broken” was among its key conclusions.
Similarly, this summer, the Swedish DPA found, in accordance with GDPR, that consent was not a valid legal basis for a school pilot using facial recognition to keep track of students’ attendance given the clear imbalance between the data subject and the controller.
This power imbalance is at the heart of the failure of consent as a lawful basis under Art. 6, for data processing from schools.
Schools, children and their families across England and Wales currently have no mechanisms to understand which companies and third parties will process their personal data in the course of a child’s compulsory education.
Children have rights to privacy and to data protection that are currently disregarded.
Fair processing is a joke.
Unclear boundaries between the processing in-school and by third parties are the norm.
Companies and third parties reach far beyond the boundaries of processor, necessity and proportionality, when they determine the nature of the processing: extensive data analytics, product enhancements and development going beyond necessary for the existing relationship, or product trials.
Data retention rules are as unrespected as the boundaries of lawful processing. and ‘we make the data pseudonymous / anonymous and then archive / process / keep forever’ is common.
Rights are as yet almost completely unheard of for schools to explain, offer and respect, except for Subject Access. Portability for example, a requirement for consent, simply does not exist.
“Children do not lose their human rights by virtue of passing through the school gates. Thus, for example, education must be provided in a way that respects the inherent dignity of the child and enables the child to express his or her views freely in accordance with article 12, para (1), and to participate in school life.”
“the human race is about to enter a totally data mined existence…education happens to be today, the world’s most data mineable industry– by far.”
At the moment, these competing interests and the enormous power imbalance between companies and schools, and schools and families, means children’s rights are last on the list and oft ignored.
In addition, there are serious implications for the State, schools and families due to the routine dependence on key systems at scale:
Infrastructure dependence ie Google Education
Hidden risks [tangible and intangible] of freeware
Data distribution at scale and dependence on third party intermediaries
and not least, the implications for families’ mental health and stress thanks to the shift of the burden of school back office admin from schools, to the family.
It’s not a contract between children and companies either
Contract GDPR Article 6 (b) does not work either, as a basis of processing between the data processing and the data subject, because again, it’s the school that determines the need for and nature of the processing in education, and doesn’t work for children.
Controllers must, inter alia, take into account the impact on data subjects’ rights when identifying the appropriate lawful basis in order to respect the principle of fairness.
They also concluded that, on the capacity of children to enter into contracts, (footnote 10, page 6)
“A contractual term that has not been individually negotiated is unfair under the Unfair Contract Terms Directive “if, contrary to the requirement of good faith, it causes a significant imbalance in the parties’ rights and obligations arising under the contract, to the detriment of the consumer”.
Like the transparency obligation in the GDPR, the Unfair Contract Terms Directive mandates the use of plain, intelligible language.
Processing of personal data that is based on what is deemed to be an unfair term under the Unfair Contract Terms Directive, will generally not be consistent with the requirement under Article5(1)(a) GDPR that processing is lawful and fair.’
In relation to the processing of special categories of personal data, in the guidelines on consent, WP29 has also observed that Article 9(2) does not recognize ‘necessary for the performance of a contract’ as an exception to the general prohibition to process special categories of data.
They too also found:
it is completely inappropriate to use consent when processing children’s data: children aged 13 and older are, under the current legal framework, considered old enough to consent to their data being used, even though many adults struggle to understand what they are consenting to.
Can we fix it?
Consent models fail school children. Contracts can’t be between children and companies. So what do we do instead?
Schools’ statutory tasks rely on having a legal basis under data protection law, the public task lawful basis Article 6(e) under GDPR, which implies accompanying lawful obligations and responsibilities of schools towards children. They cannot rely on (f) legitimate interests. This 6(e) does not extend directly to third parties.
Third parties should operate on the basis of contract with the school, as processors, but nothing more. That means third parties do not become data controllers. Schools stay the data controller.
Where that would differ with current practice, is that most processors today stray beyond necessary tasks and become de facto controllers. Sometimes because of the everyday processing and having too much of a determining role in the definition of purposes or not allowing changes to terms and conditions; using data to develop their own or new products, for extensive data analytics, the location of processing and data transfers, and very often because of excessive retention.
Although the freedom of the mish-mash of procurement models across UK schools on an individual basis, learning grids, MATs, Local Authorities and no-one-size-fits-all model may often be a good thing, the lack of consistency today means your child’s privacy and data protection are in a postcode lottery. Instead we need:
a radical rethink the use of consent models, and home-school agreements to obtain manufactured ‘I agree’ consent.
to radically articulate and regulate what good looks like, for interactions between children and companies facilitated by schools, and
radically redesign a contract model which enables only that processing which is within the limitations of a processors remit and therefore does not need to rely on consent.
It would mean radical changes in retention as well. Processors can only process for only as long as the legal basis extends from the school. That should generally be only the time for which a child is in school, and using that product in the course of their education. And certainly data must not stay with an indefinite number of companies and their partners, once the child has left that class, year, or left school and using the tool. Schools will need to be able to bring in part of the data they outsource to third parties for learning, *if* they need it as evidence or part of the learning record, into the educational record.
Where schools close (or the legal entity shuts down and no one thinks of the school records [yes, it happens], change name, and reopen in the same walls as under academisation) there must be a designated controller communicated before the change occurs.
The school fence is then something that protects the purposes of the child’s data for education, for life, and is the go to for questions. The child has a visible and manageable digital footprint. Industry can be confident that they do indeed have a lawful basis for processing.
Schools need to be within a circle of competence
This would need an independent infrastructure we do not have today, but need to draw on.
communication to families and children of agreed processors on an annual basis,
an opt out mechanism that works,
alternative lesson content on offer to meet a similar level of offering for those who do,
and end-of-school-life data usage reports.
The due diligence in procurement, in data protection impact assessment, and accountability needs to be done up front, removed from the classroom teacher’s responsibility who is in an impossible position having had no basic teacher training in privacy law or data protection rights, and the documents need published in consultation with governors and parents, before beginning processing.
However, it would need to have a baseline of good standards that simply does not exist today.
That would also offer a public safeguard for processing at scale, where a company is not notifying the DPA due to small numbers of children at each school, but where overall group processing of special category (sensitive) data could be for millions of children.
Where some procurement structures might exist today, in left over learning grids, their independence is compromised by corporate partnerships and excessive freedoms.
While pre-approval of apps and platforms can fail where the onus is on the controller to accept a product at a point in time, the power shift would occur where products would not be permitted to continue processing without notifying of significant change in agreed activities, owner, storage of data abroad and so on.
We shift the power balance back to schools, where they can trust a procurement approval route, and children and families can trust schools to only be working with suppliers that are not overstepping the boundaries of lawful processing.
What might school standards look like?
The first principles of necessity, proportionality, data minimisation would need to be demonstrable — just as required under data protection law for many years, and is more explicit under GDPR’s accountability principle. The scope of the school’s authority must be limited to data processing for defined educational purposes under law and only these purposes can be carried over to the processor. It would need legislation and a Code of Practice, and ongoing independent oversight. Violations could mean losing the permission to be a provider in the UK school system. Data processing failures would be referred to the ICO.
Purposes: A duty on the purposes of processing to be for necessary for strictly defined educational purposes.
Service Improvement: Processing personal information collected from children to improve the product would be very narrow and constrained to the existing product and relationship with data subjects — i.e security, not secondary product development.
Deletion: Families and children must still be able to request deletion of personal information collected by vendors which do not form part of the permanent educational record. And a ‘clean slate’ approach for anything beyond the necessary educational record, which would in any event, be school controlled.
Fairness: Whilst at school, the school has responsibility for communication to the child and family how their personal data are processed.
Post-school accountability as the data, resides with the school: On leaving school the default for most companies, should be deletion of all personal data, provided by the data subject, by the school, and inferred from processing. For remaining data, the school should become the data controller and the data transferred to the school. For any remaining company processing, it must be accountable as controller on demand to both the school and the individual, and at minimum communicate data usage on an annual basis to the school.
Ongoing relationships: Loss of communication channels should be assumed to be a withdrawal of relationship and data transferred to the school, if not deleted.
Data reuse and repurposing for marketing explicitly forbidden. Vendors must be prohibited from using information for secondary [onward or indirect] reuse, for example in product or external marketing to pupils or parents.
Families must still be able to object to processing, on an ad hoc basis, but at no detriment to the child, and an alternative method of achieving the same aims must be offered.
Data usage reports would become the norm to close the loop on an annual basis. “Here’s what we said we’d do at the start of the year. Here’s where your data actually went, and why.”
In addition, minimum acceptable ethical standards could be framed around for example, accessibility, and restrictions on in-product advertising.
There must be no alternative back route to just enough processing
What we should not do, is introduce workarounds by the back door.
Schools are not to carry on as they do today, manufacturing ‘consent’ which is in fact unlawful. It’s why Google, despite the objection when I set this out some time ago, is processing unlawfully. They rely on consent that simply cannot and does not exist.
‘There has been a significant expansion of education technology used in classrooms’, the FTC mused before asking whether the Commission should consider a specific exception to parental consent for the use of education technology used in the schools.
In a backwards approach to agency and the development of a rights respecting digital environment for the child, the consultation in effect suggests that we mould our rights mechanisms to fit the needs of business.
That must change. The ecosystem needs a massive shift to acknowledge that if it is to be GDPR compliant, which is a rights respecting regulation, then practice must become rights respecting.
That means meeting children and families reasonable expectations. If I send my daughter to school, and we are required to use a product that processes our personal data, it must be strictly for the *necessary* purposes of the task that the school asks of the company, and the child/ family expects, and not a jot more.
Borrowing on Ben Green’s smart enough city concept, or Rachel Coldicutt’s just enough Internet, UK school edTech suppliers should be doing just enough processing.
How it is done in the U.S. governed by FERPA law is imperfect and still results in too many privacy invasions, but it offers a regional model of expertise for schools to rely on, and strong contractual agreements of what is permitted.
That, we could build on. It could be just enough, to get it right.
Notes [and my thoughts] from the Women Leading in AI launch event of the Ten Principles of Responsible AI report and recommendations, February 6, 2019.
Speakers included Ivana Bartoletti (GemServ), Jo Stevens MP, Professor Joanna J Bryson, Lord Tim Clement-Jones, Roger Taylor (Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, Chair), Sue Daley (techUK), Reema Patel, Nuffield Foundation and Ada Lovelace Institute.
Challenging the unaccountable and the ‘inevitable’ is the title of the conclusion of the Women Leading in AI reportTen Principles of Responsible AI, launched this week, and this makes me hopeful.
“There is nothing inevitable about how we choose to use this disruptive technology. […] And there is no excuse for failing to set clear rules so that it remains accountable, fosters our civic values and allows humanity to be stronger and better.”
innovation, ‘flashes in the pan’ are not sustainable and not what we’re looking for things in that work for us [society].
The power dynamics of data, noting Facebook, Google et al are global assets, and are also global problems, and flagged the UK consultation on taxation open now.
And that it is critical that we do not have another nation with access to all of our data.
She challenged the audience to think about the fact that inequality is higher now than it has been since World War I. That the rich are getting richer and that imbalance of not only wealth, but of the control individuals have in their own lives, is failing us all.
This big picture thinking while zooming in on detailed social, cultural, political and tech issues, fascinated me most that evening. It frustrated the man next to me apparently, who said to me at the end, ‘but they haven’t addressed anything on the technology.’
[I wondered if that summed up neatly, some of why fixing AI cannot be a male dominated debate. Because many of these issues for AI, are not of the technology, but of people and power.]
Jo Stevens, MP for Cardiff Central, hosted the event and was candid about politicians’ level of knowledge and the need to catch up on some of what matters in the tech sector.
We grapple with the speed of tech, she said. We’re slow at doing things and tech moves quickly. It means that we have to learn quickly.
While discussing how regulation is not something AI tech companies should fear, she suggested that a constructive framework whilst protecting society against some of the problems we see is necessary and just, because self-regulation has failed.
She talked about their enquiry which began about “fake news” and disinformation, but has grown to include:
wider behavioural economics,
how it affects democracy.
understanding the power of data.
disappointment with social media companies, who understand the power they have, and fail to be accountable.
She wants to see something that changes the way big business works, in the way that employment regulation challenged exploitation of the workforce and unsafe practices in the past.
The bias (conscious or unconscious) and power imbalance has some similarity with the effects on marginalised communities — women, BAME, disabilities — and she was looking forward to see the proposed solutions, and welcomed the principles.
Right now there are so many different bodies, groups in parliament and others looking at this [AI / Internet / The Digital World] he said, so it was good that the topic is timely, front and centre with a focus on women, diversity and bias.
He highlighted, the importance of maintaining public trust. How do you understand bias? How do you know how algorithms are trained and understand the issues? He fessed up to being a big fan of DotEveryone and their drive for better ‘digital understanding’.
[Though sometimes this point is over complicated by suggesting individuals must understand how the AI works, the consensus of the evening was common sensed — and aligned with the Working Party 29 guidance — that data controllers must ensure they explain clearly and simply to individuals, how the profiling or automated decision-making process works, and what its effect is for them.]
The way forward he said includes:
Designing ethics into algorithms up front.
Data audits need to be diverse in order to embody fairness and diversity in the AI.
Questions of the job market and re-skilling.
The enforcement of ethical frameworks.
He also asked how far bodies will act, in different debates. Deciding who decides on that is still a debate to be had.
For example, aware of the social credit agenda and scoring in China, we should avoid the same issues. He also agreed with Joanna, that international cooperation is vital, and said it is important that we are not disadvantaged in this global technology. He expected that we [the Government Office for AI] will soon promote a common set of AI ethics, at the G20.
Facial recognition and AI are examples of areas that require regulation for safe use of the tech and to weed out those using it for the wrong purposes, he suggested.
However, on regulation he held back. We need to be careful about too many regulators he said. We’ve got the ICO, FCA, CMA, OFCOM, you name it, we’ve already got it, and they risk tripping over one another. [What I thought as CDEI was created para 31.]
We [the Lords Committee] didn’t suggest yet another regulator for AI, he said and instead the CDEI should grapple with those issues and encourage ethical design in micro-targeting for example.
Roger Taylor (Chair of the CDEI), — after saying it felt as if the WLinAI report was like someone had left their homework on his desk, — supported the concept of the WLinAI principles are important, and agreed it was time for practical things, and what needs done.
Can our existing regulators do their job, and cover AI? he asked, suggesting new regulators will not be necessary. Bias he rightly recognised, already exists in our laws and bodies with public obligations, and in how AI is already operating;
What evidence is needed, what process is required, what is needed to assure that we know how it is actually operating? Who gets to decide to know if this is fair or not? While these are complex decisions, they are ultimately not for technicians, but a decision for society, he said.
[So far so good.]
Then he made some statements which were rather more ambiguous. The standards expected of the police will not be the same as those for marketeers micro targeting adverts at you, for example.
[I wondered how and why.]
Start up industries pay more to Google and Facebook than in taxes he said.
[I wondered how and why.]
When we think about a knowledge economy, the output of our most valuable companies is increasingly ‘what is our collective truth? Do you have this diagnosis or not? Are you a good credit risk or not? Even who you think you are — your identity will be controlled by machines.’
What can we do as one country [to influence these questions on AI], in what is a global industry? He believes, a huge amount. We are active in the financial sector, the health service, education, and social care — and while we are at the mercy of large corporations, even large corporations obey the law, he said.
The power to use systems to nudge our decisions, he suggested, is one that needs careful thought. The desire to use the tech to help make decisions is inbuilt into what is actually wrong with the technology that enables us to do so. [With this I strongly agree, and there is too little protection from nudge in data protection law.]
The real question here is, “What is OK to be owned in that kind of economy?” he asked.
This was arguably the neatest and most important question of the evening, and I vigorously agreed with him asking it, but then I worry about his conclusion in passing, that he was, “very keen to hear from anyone attempting to use AI effectively, and encountering difficulties because of regulatory structures.“
[And unpopular or contradictory a view as it may be, I find it deeply ethically problematic for the Chair of the CDEI to be held by someone who had a joint-venture that commercially exploited confidential data from the NHS without public knowledge, and its sale to the Department of Health was described by the Public Accounts Committee, as a “hole and corner deal”. That was the route towards care.data, that his co-founder later led for NHS England. The company was then bought by Telstra, where Mr Kelsey went next on leaving NHS Engalnd. The whole commodification of confidentiality of public data, without regard for public trust, is still a barrier to sustainable UK data policy.]
Sue Daley (Tech UK) agreed this year needs to be the year we see action, and the report is a call to action on issues that warrant further discussion.
Business wants to do the right thing, and we need to promote it.
We need two things — confidence and vigilance.
We’re not starting from scratch, and talked about GDPR as the floor not the ceiling. A starting point.
[I’m not quite sure what she was after here, but perhaps it was the suggestion that data regulation is fundamental in AI regulation, with which I would agree.]
What is the gap that needs filled she asked? Gap analysis is what we need next and avoid duplication of effort —need to avoid complexity and duplicity of work with other bodies. If we can answer some of the big, profound questions need to be addressed to position the UK as the place where companies want to come to.
Sue was the only speaker that went on to talk about the education system that needs to frame what skills are needed for a future world for a generation, ‘to thrive in the world we are building for them.’
She finished with the hope that young people watching BBC icons the night before would see, Alan Turing [winner of the title] and say yes, I want to be part of that.
Listening to Reema Patel, representative of the Ada Lovelace Institute, was the reason I didn’t leave early and missed my evening class. Everything she said resonated, and was some of the best I have heard in the recent UK debate on AI.
Civic engagement, the role of the public is as yet unclear with not one homogeneous, but many publics.
The sense of disempowerment is important, with disconnect between policy and decisions made about people’s lives.
Transparency and literacy are key.
Accountability is vague but vital.
What does the social contract look like on people using data?
Data may not only be about an individual and under their own responsibility, but about others and what does that mean for data rights, data stewardship and articulation of how they connect with one another, which is lacking in the debate.
Legitimacy; If people don’t believe it is working for them, it won’t work at all.
Ensuring tech design is responsive to societal values.
2018 was a terrible year she thought. Let’s make 2019 better. [Yes!]
Comments from the floor and questions included Professor Noel Sharkey, who spoke about the reasons why it is urgent to act especially where technology is unfair and unsafe and already in use. He pointed to Compass (Durham police), and predictive policing using AI and facial recognition, with 5% accuracy, and that the Met was not taking these flaws seriously. Liberty produced a strong report on it out this week.
Caroline, from Women in AI echoed my own comments on the need to get urgent review in place of these technologies used with children in education and social care. [in particular where used for prediction of child abuse and interventions in family life].
Joanna J Bryson added to the conversation on accountability, to say people are not following existing software and audit protocols, someone just needs to go and see if people did the right thing.
The basic question of accountability, is to ask if any flaw is the fault of a corporation, of due diligence, or of the users of the tool? Telling people that this is the same problem as any other software, makes it much easier to find solutions to accountability.
Tim Clement-Jones asked, on how many fronts can we fight on at the same time? If government has appeared to exempt itself from some of these issues, and created a weak framework for itself on handing data, in the Data Protection Act — critically he also asked, is the ICO adequately enforcing on government and public accountability, at local and national levels?
Sue Daley also reminded us that politicians need not know everything, but need to know what the right questions are to be asking? What are the effects that this has on my constituents, in employment, my family? And while she also suggested that not using the technology could be unethical, a participant countered that it’s not the worst the thing to have to slow technology down and ensure it is safe before we all go along with it.
My takeaways of the evening, included that there is a very large body of women, of whom attendees were only a small part, who are thinking, building and engineering solutions to some of these societal issues embedded in policy, practice and technology. They need heard.
It was genuinely electric and empowering, to be in a room dominated by women, women reflecting diversity of a variety of publics, ages, and backgrounds, and who listened to one another. It was certainly something out of the ordinary.
There was a subtle but tangible tension on whether or not regulation beyond what we have today is needed.
While regulating the human behaviour that becomes encoded in AI, we need to ensure ethics of human behaviour, reasonable expectations and fairness are not conflated with the technology [ie a question of, is AI good or bad] but how it is designed, trained, employed, audited, and assess whether it should be used at all.
Why there’s not more women or people from minorities working in the sector, was a really interesting if short, part of the discussion. Why should young women and minorities want to go into an environment that they can see is hostile, in which they may not be heard, and we still hold *them* responsible for making work work?
And while there were many voices lamenting the skills and education gaps, there were probably fewer who might see the solution more simply, as I do. Schools are foreshortening Key Stage 3 by a year, replacing a breadth of subjects, with an earlier compulsory 3 year GCSE curriculum which includes RE, and PSHE, but means that at 12, many children are having to choose to do GCSE courses in computer science / coding, or a consumer-style iMedia, or no IT at all, for the rest of their school life. This either-or content, is incredibly short-sighted and surely some blend of non-examined digital skills should be offered through to 16 to all, at least in parallel importance with RE or PSHE.
I also still wonder, about all that incredibly bright and engaged people are not talking about and solving, and missing in policy making, while caught up in AI. We need to keep thinking broadly, and keep human rights at the centre of our thinking on machines. Anaïs Nin wrote over 70 years ago about the risks of growth in technology to expand our potential for connectivity through machines, but diminish our genuine connectedness as people.
“I don’t think the [American] obsession with politics and economics has improved anything. I am tired of this constant drafting of everyone, to think only of present day events”.
And as I wrote about nearly 3 years ago, we still seem to have no vision for sustainable public policy on data, or establishing a social contract for its use as Reema said, which underpins the UK AI debate. Meanwhile, the current changing national public policies in England on identity and technology, are becoming catastrophic.
Challenging the unaccountable and the ‘inevitable’ in today’s technology and AI debate, is an urgent call to action.
I look forward to hearing how Women Leading in AI plan to make it happen.
The launch of the Women Leading in AIprinciples of responsible AI, has prompted me to try and finish and post these thoughts, which have been on my mind for some time. If two parts of 1K is tl:dr for you, then in summary, we need more action on:
Ethics as a route to regulatory avoidance.
Framing AI and data debates as a cost to the Economy.
Reframing the debate around imbalance of risk.
Challenging the unaccountable and the ‘inevitable’.
In 2019, the calls to push aside old wisdoms for new, for everyone to focus on the value-laden words of ‘innovation’ and ‘ethics’, appears an ever louder attempt to reframe regulation and law as barriers to business, asking to cast them aside.
On Wednesday evening, at the launch of the Women Leading in AIprinciples of responsible AI, the chair of the CDEI said in closing, he was keen to hear from companies where, “they were attempting to use AI effectively and encountering difficulties due to regulatory structures.”
Perhaps it’s ingenious PR to make sure that what is in effect self-regulation, right across the business model, looks like it comes imposed from others, from the very bodies set up to fix it.
But as I think about in part 2, is this healthy for UK public policy and the future not of an industry sector, but a whole technology, when it comes to AI?
Framing AI and data debates as a cost to the Economy
Companies, organisations and individuals arguing against regulation are framing the debate as if it would come at a great cost to society and the economy. But we rarely hear, what effect do they expect on their company. What’s the cost/benefit expected for them. It’s disingenuous to have only part of that conversation. In fact the AI debate would be richer were it to be included. If companies think their innovation or profits are at risk from non-use, or regulated use, and there is risk to the national good associated with these products, we should be talking about all of that.
And in addition, we can talk about use and non-use in society. Too often, the whole debate is intangible. Show me real costs, real benefits. Real risk assessments. Real explanations that speak human. Industry should show society what’s in it for them.
You don’t want it to ‘turn out like GM crops’? Then learn their lessons on transparency, trustworthiness, and avoid the hype. And understand sometimes there is simply tech, people do not want.
Reframing the debate around imbalance of risk
And while we often hear about the imbalance of power associated with using AI, we also need to talk about the imbalance of risk.
And where company owners may see no risk from the product they assure is safe, there are intangible risks that need factored in, for example in education where a child’s learning pathway is determined by patterns of behaviour, and how tools shape individualised learning, as well as the model of education.
Companies may change business model, ownership, and move on to other sectors after failure. But with the levels of unfairness already felt in the relationship between the citizen and State — in programmes like Troubled Families, Universal Credit, Policing, and Prevent — where use of algorithms and ever larger datasets is increasing, long term harm from unaccountable failure will grow.
Society needs a rebalance of the system urgently to promote transparent fairness in interactions, including but not only those with new applications of technology.
We must find ways to reframe how this imbalance of risk is assessed, and is distributed between companies and the individual, or between companies and state and society, and enable access to meaningful redress when risks turn into harm.
If we are to do that, we need first to separate truth from hype, public good from self-interest and have a real discussion of risk across the full range from individual, to state, to society at large.
That’s not easy against a non-neutral backdrop and scant sources of unbiased evidence and corporate capture.
Challenging the unaccountable and the ‘inevitable’.
In 2017 the Care Quality Commission reported into online services in the NHS, and found serious concerns of unsafe and ineffective care. They have a cross-regulatory working group.
By contrast, no one appears to oversee that risk and the embedded use of automated tools involved in decision-making or decision support, in children’s services, or education. Areas where AI and cognitive behavioural science and neuroscience are already in use, without ethical approval, without parental knowledge or any transparency.
Meanwhile, as all this goes on, academics many are busy debating fixing algorithmic bias, accountability and its transparency.
Few are challenging the narrative of the ‘inevitability’ of AI.
Julia Powles and Helen Nissenbaum recently wrote that many of these current debates are an academic distraction, removed from reality. It is under appreciated how deeply these tools are already embedded in UK public policy. “Trying to “fix” A.I. distracts from the more urgent questions about the technology. It also denies us the possibility of asking: Should we be building these systems at all?”
Challenging the unaccountable and the ‘inevitable’ is the title of the conclusion of the Women Leading in AI report on principles, and makes me hopeful.
“There is nothing inevitable about how we choose to use this disruptive technology. […] And there is no excuse for failing to set clear rules so that it remains accountable, fosters our civic values and allows humanity to be stronger and better.”
We laud people in these companies as co-founders and forward thinkers on new data ethics institutes. They are invited to sit on our national boards, or create new ones.
What does that say about the entire board’s respect for the law which the company breached? It is hard not to see it signal acceptance of the company’s excuses or lack of accountability.
The same companies whose work has breached data protection law, multiple ways, seemingly ‘by accident’ on national data extractions, are those companies that cross the t’s and dot the i’s on even the simplest conference call, and demand everything is said in strictest confidence. Meanwhile their everyday business practices ignore millions of people’s lawful rights to confidentiality.
The extent of commercial companies’ influence on these boards is opaque. To allow this ethics bandwagon to be driven by the corporate giants surely eschews genuine rights-based values, and long-term integrity of the body they appear to serve.
I am told that these global orgs must be in the room and at the table, to use the opportunity to make the world a better place.
These companies already have *all* the opportunity. Not only monopoly positions on their own technology, but the datasets at scale which underpin it, excluding new entrants to the market. Their pick of new hires from universities. The sponsorship of events. The political lobbying. Access to the media. The lawyers. Bottomless pockets to pay for it all. And seats at board tables set up to shape UK policy responses.
It’s a struggle for power, and a stake in our collective future. The status quo is not good enough for many parts of society, and to enable Big Tech or big government to maintain that simply through the latest tools, is a missed chance to reshape for good.
You can see it in many tech boards’ make up, and pervasive white male bias. We hear it echoed in London think tank conferences, even independent tech design agencies, or set out in some Big Tech reports. All seemingly unconnected, but often funded by the same driving sources.
These companies are often those that made it worse to start with, and the very ethics issues the boards have been set up to deal with, are at the core of their business models and of their making.
The deliberate infiltration of influence on online safety policy for children, or global privacy efforts is very real, explicitly set out in the #FacebookEmails, for example.
We will not resolve these fundamental questions, as long as the companies whose business depend on them, steer national policy. The odds will be ever in their favour.
At the same time, some of these individuals are brilliant. In all senses.
So what’s the answer. If they are around the table, what should the UK public expect of their involvement, and ensure in whose best interests it is? How do we achieve authentic accountability?
Whether it be social media, data analytics, or AI in public policy, can companies be safely permitted to be policy shapers if they wear all the hats; product maker, profit taker, *and* process or product auditor?
Creating Authentic Accountability
At minimum we must demand responsibility for their own actions from board members who represent or are funded by companies.
They must deliver on their own product problems first before being allowed to suggest solutions to societal problems.
There should be credible separation between informing policy makers, and shaping policy.
There must be total transparency of funding sources across any public sector boards, of members, and those lobbying them.
Board members must be meaningfully held accountable for continued company transgressions on rights and freedoms, not only harms.
Oversight of board decision making must be decentralised, transparent and available to scrutiny and meaningful challenge.
While these new bodies may propose solutions that include public engagement strategies, transparency, and standards, few propose meaningful oversight. The real test is not what companies say in their ethical frameworks, but in what they continue to do.
If they fail to meet legal or regulatory frameworks, minimum accountability should mean no more access to public data sets and losing positions of policy influence.
Their behaviour needs to go above and beyond meeting the letter of the law, scraping by or working around rights based protections. They need to put people ahead of profit and self interests. That’s what ethics should mean, not be a PR route to avoid regulation.
As long as companies think the consequences of their platforms and actions are tolerable and a minimal disruption to their business model, society will be expected to live with their transgressions, and our most vulnerable will continue to pay the cost.
This is part 2 of thoughts on Policy shapers, product makers, and profit takers — data and AI. Part 1 is here.
First they came for the lists of lecturers. Did you speak out?
Last week Chris Heaton-Harris MP wrote to vice-chancellors to ask for a list of lecturers’ names and course content, “With particular reference to Brexit”. Academics on social media spoke out in protest. There has been little reaction however, to a range of new laws that permit the incremental expansion of the database state on paper and in practice.
The government is building ever more sensitive lists of names and addresses, without oversight. They will have access to information about our bank accounts. They are using our admin data to create distress-by-design in a ‘hostile environment.’ They are writing laws that give away young people’s confidential data, ignoring new EU law that says children’s data merits special protections.
Earlier this year, Part 5 of the new Digital Economy Act reduced the data protection infrastructure between different government departments. This week, in discussion on the Codes of Practice, some local government data users were already asking whether safeguards can be further relaxed to permit increased access to civil registration data and use our identity data for more purposes.
Now in the Data Protection Bill, the government has included clauses in Schedule 2, to reduce our rights to question how our data are used and that will remove a right to redress where things go wrong. Clause 15 designs-in open ended possibilities of Statutory Instruments for future change.
The House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution point out on the report on the Bill, that the number and breadth of the delegated powers, are, “an increasingly common feature of legislation which, as we have repeatedly stated, causes considerable concern.”
Concern needs to translate into debate, better wording and safeguards to ensure Parliament maintains its role of scrutiny and where necessary constrains executive powers.
Take as case studies, three new Statutory Instruments on personal data from pupils, students, and staff. They all permit more data to be extracted from individuals and to be sent to national level:
SI 807/2017 The Education (Information About Children in Alternative Provision) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2017
SI No. 886 The Education (Student Information) (Wales) Regulations 2017 (W. 214) and
SL(5)128 – The Education (Supply of Information about the School Workforce) (Wales) Regulations 2017
The SIs typically state “impact assessment has not been prepared for this Order as no impact on businesses or civil society organisations is foreseen. The impact on the public sector is minimal.” Privacy Impact Assessments are either not done, not published or refused via FOI.
That SI should have been a warning, not a process model to repeat.
From January, thanks to yet another rushed law without debate, (SI 807/2017) teen pregnancy, young offender and mental health labels will be added to children’s records for life in England’s National Pupil Database. These are on a named basis, and highly sensitive. Data from the National Pupil Database, including special needs data (SEN) are passed on for a broad range of purposes to third parties, and are also used across government in Troubled Families, shared with National Citizen Service, and stored forever; on a named basis, all without pupils’ consent or parents’ knowledge. Without a change in policy, young offender and pregnancy, will be handed out too.
Near-identical wording that was used in 2012 to change the law in England, reappears in the new SI for student data in Wales.
The Wales government introduced regulations for a new student database of names, date of birth and ethnicity, home address including postcode, plus exam results. The third parties listed who will get given access to the data without asking for students’ consent, include the Student Loans Company and “persons who, for the purpose of promoting the education or well-being of students in Wales, require the information for that purpose”, in SI No. 886, the Education (Student Information) (Wales) Regulations 2017 (W. 214).
The consultation was conflated with destinations data, and while it all sounds for the right reasons, the SI is broad on purposes and prescribed persons. It received 10 responses.
Separately, a 2017 consultation on the staff data collection received 34 responses about building a national database of teachers, including names, date of birth, National Insurance numbers, ethnicity, disability, their level of Welsh language skills, training, salary and more. Unions and the Information Commissioner’s Office both asked basic questions in the consultation that remain unanswered, including who will have access. It’s now law thanks to SL(5)128 – The Education (Supply of Information about the School Workforce) (Wales) Regulations 2017. The questions are open.
While I have been assured this weekend in writing that these data will not be used for commercial purposes or immigration enforcement, any meaningful safeguards are missing.
More failings on fairness
Where are the communications to staff, students and parents? What oversight will there be? Will a register of uses be published? And why does government get to decide without debate, that our fundamental right to privacy can be overwritten by a few lines of law? What protections will pupils, students and staff have in future how these data will be used and uses expanded for other things?
This is not what people expect or find reasonable. In 2015 UCAS had 37,000 students respond to an Applicant Data Survey. 62% of applicants think sharing their personal data for research is a good thing, and 64% see personal benefits in data sharing. But over 90% of applicants say they should be asked first, regardless of whether their data is to be used for research, or other things. This SI takes away their right to control their data and their digital identity.
It’s not in young people’s best interests to be made more digitally disempowered and lose control over their digital identity. The GDPR requires data privacy by design. This approach should be binned.
Meanwhile, the Digital Economy Act codes of practice talk about fair and lawful processing as if it is a real process that actually happens.
That gap between words on paper, and reality, is a caredata style catastrophe across every sector of public data and government waiting to happen. When will the public be told how data are used?
Better data must be fairer and safer in the future
The new UK Data Protection Bill is in Parliament right now, and its wording will matter. Safe data, transparent use, and independent oversight are not empty slogans to sling into the debate.
To ensure our public [personal] data are used well, we need to trust why they’re collected and see how they are used. But instead the government has drafted their own get-out-of-jail-free-card to remove all our data protection rights to know in the name of immigration investigation and enforcement, and other open ended public interest exemptions.
The pursuit of individuals and their rights under an anti-immigration rhetoric without evidence of narrow case need, in addition to all the immigration law we have, is not the public interest, but ideology.
If these exemptions becomes law, every one of us loses right to ask where our data came from, why it was used for that purpose, or course of redress.
The Digital Economy Act removed some of the infrastructure protections between Departments for datasharing. These clauses will remove our rights to know where and why that data has been passed around between them.
These lines are not just words on a page. They will have real effects on real people’s lives. These new databases are lists of names, and addresses, or attach labels to our identity that last a lifetime.
Even the advocates in favour of the Database State know that if we want to have good public services, their data use must be secure and trustworthy, and we have to be able to trust staff with our data.
As the Committee sits this week to review the bill line by line, the Lords must make sure common sense sees off the scattering of substantial public interest and immigration exemptions in the Data Protection Bill. Excessive exemptions need removed, not our rights.
Otherwise we can kiss goodbye to the UK as a world leader in tech that uses our personal data, or research that uses public data. Because if the safeguards are weak, the commercial players who get it wrong in trials of selling patient data, or who try to skip around the regulatory landscape asking to be treated better than everyone else, and fail to comply with Data Protection law, or when government is driven to chasing children out of education, it doesn’t just damage their reputation, or the potential of innovation for all, they damage public trust from everyone, and harm all data users.
Clause 15 leaves any future change open ended by Statutory Instrument. We can already see how SIs like these are used to create new national databases that can pop up at any time, without clear evidence of necessity, and without chance for proper scrutiny. We already see how data can be used, beyond reasonable expectations.
If we don’t speak out for our data privacy, the next time they want a list of names, they won’t need to ask. They’ll already know.
Minister for Digital Matt Hancock’s keynote address to the UK Internet Governance Forum, 13 September [link].
“…the Data Protection Bill, which will bring our data protection regime into the twenty first century, giving citizens more sovereignty over their data, and greater penalties for those who break the rules.
“With AI and machine learning, data use is moving fast. Good use of data isn’t just about complying with the regulations, it’s about the ethical use of data too.
“So good governance of data isn’t just about legislation – as important as that is – it’s also about establishing ethical norms and boundaries, as a society. And this is something our Digital Charter will address too.”
What would it mean for you to trust an Internet connected product or service and why would you not?
What has damaged consumer trust in products and services and why do sellers care?
What do we want to see different from today, and what is necessary to bring about that change?
These three pairs of questions implicitly underpinned the intense day of #iotmark discussion at the London Zoo last Friday.
The questions went unasked, and could have been voiced before we started, although were probably assumed to be self-evident:
Why do you want one at all [define the problem]?
What needs to change and why [define the future model]?
How do you deliver that and for whom [set out the solution]?
If a group does not agree on the need and drivers for change, there will be no consensus on what that should look like, what the gap is to achieve it, and even less on making it happen.
So who do you want the trustmark to be for, why will anyone want it, and what will need to change to deliver the aims? No one wants a trustmark per se. Perhaps you want what values or promises it embodies to demonstrate what you stand for, promote good practice, and generate consumer trust. To generate trust, you must be seen to be trustworthy. Will the principles deliver on those goals?
The Open IoT Certification Mark Principles, as a rough draft was the outcome of the day, and are available online.
Here’s my reflections, including what was missing on privacy, and the potential for it to be considered in future.
I’ve structured this first, assuming readers attended the event, at ca 1,000 words. Lists and bullet points. The background comes after that, for anyone interested to read a longer piece.
Many thanks upfront, to fellow participants, to the organisers Alexandra D-S and Usman Haque and the colleague who hosted at the London Zoo. And Usman’s Mum. I hope there will be more constructive work to follow, and that there is space for civil society to play a supporting role and critical friend.
The mark didn’t aim to fix the IoT in a day, but deliver something better for product and service users, by those IoT companies and providers who want to sign up. Here is what I took away.
I learned three things
A sense of privacy is not homogenous, even within people who like and care about privacy in theoretical and applied ways. (I very much look forward to reading suggestions promised by fellow participants, even if enforced personal openness and ‘watching the watchers’ may mean ‘privacy is theft‘.)
Awareness of current data protection regulations needs improved in the field. For example, Subject Access Requests already apply to all data controllers, public and private. Few have read the GDPR, or the e-Privacy directive, despite importance for security measures in personal devices, relevant for IoT.
I truly love working on this stuff, with people who care.
And it reaffirmed things I already knew
Change is hard, no matter in what field.
People working together towards a common goal is brilliant.
Group collaboration can create some brilliantly sharp ideas. Group compromise can blunt them.
Some men are particularly bad at talking over each other, never mind over the women in the conversation. Women notice more. (Note to self: When discussion is passionate, it’s hard to hold back in my own enthusiasm and not do the same myself. To fix.)
The IoT context, and risks within it are not homogenous, but brings new risks and adverseries. The risks for manufacturers and consumers and the rest of the public are different, and cannot be easily solved with a one-size-fits-all solution. But we can try.
Concerns I came away with
If the citizen / customer / individual is to benefit from the IoT trustmark, they must be put first, ahead of companies’ wants.
If the IoT group controls both the design, assessment to adherence and the definition of success, how objective will it be?
The group was not sufficiently diverse and as a result, reflects too little on the risks and impact of the lack of diversity in design and effect, and the implications of dataveillance .
Critical minority thoughts although welcomed, were stripped out from crowdsourced first draft principles in compromise.
More future thinking should be built-in to be robust over time.
What was missing
There was too little discussion of privacy in perhaps the most important context of IoT – inter connectivity and new adversaries. It’s not only about *your* thing, but things that it speaks to, interacts with, of friends, passersby, the cityscape , and other individual and state actors interested in offense and defense. While we started to discuss it, we did not have the opportunity to discuss sufficiently at depth to be able to get any thinking into applying solutions in the principles.
One of the greatest risks that users face is the ubiquitous collection and storage of data about users that reveal detailed, inter-connected patterns of behaviour and our identity and not seeing how that is used by companies behind the scenes.
What we also missed discussing is not what we see as necessary today, but what we can foresee as necessary for the short term future, brainstorming and crowdsourcing horizon scanning for market needs and changing stakeholder wants.
Here’s the areas of future thinking that smart thinking on the IoT mark could consider.
We are moving towards ever greater requirements to declare identity to use a product or service, to register and log in to use anything at all. How will that change trust in IoT devices?
Single identity sign-on is becoming ever more imposed, and any attempts for multiple presentation of who I am by choice, and dependent on context, therefore restricted. [not all users want to use the same social media credentials for online shopping, with their child’s school app, and their weekend entertainment]
Is this imposition what the public wants or what companies sell us as what customers want in the name of convenience? What I believe the public would really want is the choice to do neither.
There is increasingly no private space or time, at places of work.
Limitations on private space are encroaching in secret in all public city spaces. How will ‘handoffs’ affect privacy in the IoT?
There is too little understanding of the social effects of this connectedness and knowledge created, embedded in design.
What effects may there be on the perception of the IoT as a whole, if predictive data analysis and complex machine learning and AI hidden in black boxes becomes more commonplace and not every company wants to be or can be open-by-design?
Ubiquitous collection and storage of data about users that reveal detailed, inter-connected patterns of behaviour and our identity needs greater commitments to disclosure. Where the hand-offs are to other devices, and whatever else is in the surrounding ecosystem, who has responsibility for communicating interaction through privacy notices, or defining legitimate interests, where the data joined up may be much more revealing than stand-alone data in each silo?
Define with greater clarity the privacy threat models for different groups of stakeholders and address the principles for each.
What would better look like?
The draft privacy principles are a start, but they’re not yet aspirational as I would have hoped. Of course the principles will only be adopted if possible, practical and by those who choose to. But where is the differentiator from what everyone is required to do, and better than the bare minimum? How will you sell this to consumers as new? How would you like your child to be treated?
The wording in these 5 bullet points, is the first crowdsourced starting point.
The supplier of this product or service MUST be General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) compliant.
This product SHALL NOT disclose data to third parties without my knowledge.
I SHOULD get full access to all the data collected about me.
I MAY operate this device without connecting to the internet.
My data SHALL NOT be used for profiling, marketing or advertising without transparent disclosure.
Yes other points that came under security address some of the crossover between privacy and surveillance risks, but there is as yet little substantial that is aspirational to make the IoT mark a real differentiator in terms of privacy. An opportunity remains.
It was that and how young people perceive privacy that I hoped to bring to the table. Because if manufacturers are serious about future success, they cannot ignore today’s children and how they feel. How you treat them today, will shape future purchasers and their purchasing, and there is evidence you are getting it wrong.
The timing is good in that it now also offers the opportunity to promote consistent understanding, and embed the language of GDPR and ePrivacy regulations into consistent and compatible language in policy and practice in the #IoTmark principles.
User rights I would like to see considered
These are some of the points I would think privacy by design would mean. This would better articulate GDPR Article 25 to consumers.
Data sovereignty is a good concept and I believe should be considered for inclusion in explanatory blurb before any agreed privacy principles.
Goods should by ‘dumb* by default’ until the smart functionality is switched on. [*As our group chair/scribe called it] I would describe this as, “off is the default setting out-of-the-box”.
Privact by design. Deniability by default. i.e. not only after opt out, but a company should not access the personal or identifying purchase data of anyone who opts out of data collection about their product/service use during the set up process.
The right to opt out of data collection at a later date while continuing to use services.
A right to object to the sale or transfer of behavioural data, including to third-party ad networks and absolute opt-in on company transfer of ownership.
A requirement that advertising should be targeted to content, [user bought fridge A] not through jigsaw data held on users by the company [how user uses fridge A, B, C and related behaviour].
An absolute rejection of using children’s personal data gathered to target advertising and marketing at children
Background: Starting points before privacy
After a brief recap on 5 years ago, we heard two talks.
The first was a presentation from Bosch. They used the insights from the IoT open definition from 5 years ago in their IoT thinking and embedded it in their brand book. The presenter suggested that in five years time, every fridge Bosch sells will be ‘smart’. And the second was a fascinating presentation, of both EU thinking and the intellectual nudge to think beyond the practical and think what kind of society we want to see using the IoT in future. Hints of hardcore ethics and philosophy that made my brain fizz from Gerald Santucci, soon to retire from the European Commission.
The principles of open sourcing, manufacturing, and sustainable life cycle were debated in the afternoon with intense arguments and clearly knowledgeable participants, including those who were quiet. But while the group had assigned security, and started work on it weeks before, there was no one pre-assigned to privacy. For me, that said something. If they are serious about those who earn the trustmark being better for customers than their competition, then there needs to be greater emphasis on thinking like their customers, and by their customers, and what use the mark will be to customers, not companies. Plan early public engagement and testing into the design of this IoT mark, and make that testing open and diverse.
To that end, I believe it needed to be articulated more strongly, that sustainable public trust is the primary goal of the principles.
Trust that my device will not become unusable or worthless through updates or lack of them.
Trust that my device is manufactured safely and ethically and with thought given to end of life and the environment.
Trust that my source components are of high standards.
Trust in what data and how that data is gathered and used by the manufacturers.
Fundamental to ‘smart’ devices is their connection to the Internet, and so the last for me, is therefore key to successful public perception and it actually making a difference, beyond the PR value to companies. The value-add must be measured from consumers point of view.
All the openness about design functions and practice improvements, without attempting to change privacy infringing practices, may be wasted effort. Why? Because the perceived benefit of the value of the mark, will be proportionate to what risks it is seen to mitigate.
Because I assume that you know where your source components come from today. I was shocked to find out not all do and that ‘one degree removed’ is going to be an improvement? Holy cow, I thought. What about regulatory requirements for product safety recalls? These differ of course for different product areas, but I was still surprised. Having worked in global Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) and food industry, semiconductor and optoelectronics, and medical devices it was self-evident for me, that sourcing is rigorous. So that new requirement to know one degree removed, was a suggested minimum. But it might shock consumers to know there is not usually more by default.
Customers also believe they have reasonable expectations of not being screwed by a product update, left with something that does not work because of its computing based components. The public can take vocal, reputation-damaging action when they are let down.
While these are visible, the full extent of the overreach of company market and product surveillance into our whole lives, not just our living rooms, is yet to become understood by the general population. What will happen when it is?
The Internet of Things is exacerbating the power imbalance between consumers and companies, between government and citizens. As Wendy Grossman wrote recently, in one sense this may make privacy advocates’ jobs easier. It was always hard to explain why “privacy” mattered. Power, people understand.
The morning discussion touched quite often on pay-for-privacy models. While product makers may see this as offering a good thing, I strove to bring discussion back to first principles.
Privacy is a human right. There can be no ethical model of discrimination based on any non-consensual invasion of privacy. Privacy is not something I should pay to have. You should not design products that reduce my rights. GDPR requires privacy-by-design and data protection by default. Now is that chance for IoT manufacturers to lead that shift towards higher standards.
We also need a new ethics thinking on acceptable fair use. It won’t change overnight, and perfect may be the enemy of better. But it’s not a battle that companies should think consumers have lost. Human rights and information security should not be on the battlefield at all in the war to win customer loyalty. Now is the time to do better, to be better, demand better for us and in particular, for our children.
Privacy will be a genuine market differentiator
If manufacturers do not want to change their approach to exploiting customer data, they are unlikely to be seen to have changed.
Today feelings that people in US and Europe reflect in surveys are loss of empowerment, feeling helpless, and feeling used. That will shift to shock, resentment, and any change curve will predict, anger.
“The poll of just over two thousand British adults carried out by Ipsos MORI found that the media, internet services such as social media and search engines and telecommunication companies were the least trusted to use personal data appropriately.” [2014, Data trust deficit with lessons for policymakers, Royal Statistical Society]
In the British student population, one 2015 survey of university applicants in England, found of 37,000 who responded, the vast majority of UCAS applicants agree that sharing personal data can benefit them and support public benefit research into university admissions, but they want to stay firmly in control. 90% of respondents said they wanted to be asked for their consent before their personal data is provided outside of the admissions service.
In 2010, a multi method model of research with young people aged 14-18, by the Royal Society of Engineering, found that, “despite their openness to social networking, the Facebook generation have real concerns about the privacy of their medical records.” [2010, Privacy and Prejudice, RAE, Wellcome]
When people use privacy settings on Facebook set to maximum, they believe they get privacy, and understand little of what that means behind the scenes.
“But do you feel like you have privacy today?” I was asked the question in the afternoon. How do people feel today, and does it matter? Companies exploiting consumer data and getting caught doing things the public don’t expect with their data, has repeatedly damaged consumer trust. Data breaches and lack of information security have damaged consumer trust. Both cause reputational harm. Damage to reputation can harm customer loyalty. Damage to customer loyalty costs sales, profit and upsets the Board.
Where overreach into our living rooms has raised awareness of invasive data collection, we are yet to be able to see and understand the invasion of privacy into our thinking and nudge behaviour, into our perception of the world on social media, the effects on decision making that data analytics is enabling as data shows companies ‘how we think’, granting companies access to human minds in the abstract, even before Facebook is there in the flesh.
Governments want to see how we think too, and is thought crime really that far away using database labels of ‘domestic extremists’ for activists and anti-fracking campaigners, or the growing weight of policy makers attention given to predpol, predictive analytics, the [formerly] Cabinet Office Nudge Unit, Google DeepMind et al?
Had the internet remained decentralized the debate may be different.
I am starting to think of the IoT not as the Internet of Things, but as the Internet of Tracking. If some have their way, it will be the Internet of Thinking.
Considering our centralised Internet of Things model, our personal data from human interactions has become the network infrastructure, and data flows, are controlled by others. Our brains are the new data servers.
In the Internet of Tracking, people become the end nodes, not things.
And it is this where the future users will be so important. Do you understand and plan for factors that will drive push back, and crash of consumer confidence in your products, and take it seriously?
Companies have a choice to act as Empires would – multinationals, joining up even on low levels, disempowering individuals and sucking knowledge and power at the centre. Or they can act as Nation states ensuring citizens keep their sovereignty and control over a selected sense of self.
Look at Brexit. Look at the GE2017. Tell me, what do you see is the direction of travel? Companies can fight it, but will not defeat how people feel. No matter how much they hope ‘nudge’ and predictive analytics might give them this power, the people can take back control.
What might this desire to take-back-control mean for future consumer models? The afternoon discussion whilst intense, reached fairly simplistic concluding statements on privacy. We could have done with at least another hour.
Some in the group were frustrated “we seem to be going backwards” in current approaches to privacy and with GDPR.
But if the current legislation is reactive because companies have misbehaved, how will that be rectified for future? The challenge in the IoT both in terms of security and privacy, AND in terms of public perception and reputation management, is that you are dependent on the behaviours of the network, and those around you. Good and bad. And bad practices by one, can endanger others, in all senses.
If you believe that is going back to reclaim a growing sense of citizens’ rights, rather than accepting companies have the outsourced power to control the rights of others, that may be true.
There was a first principle asked whether any element on privacy was needed at all, if the text was simply to state, that the supplier of this product or service must be General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) compliant. The GDPR was years in the making after all. Does it matter more in the IoT and in what ways? The room tended, understandably, to talk about it from the company perspective. “We can’t” “won’t” “that would stop us from XYZ.” Privacy would however be better addressed from the personal point of view.
What do people want?
From the company point of view, the language is different and holds clues. Openness, control, and user choice and pay for privacy are not the same thing as the basic human right to be left alone. Afternoon discussion reminded me of the 2014 WAPO article, discussing Mark Zuckerberg’s theory of privacy and a Palo Alto meeting at Facebook:
“Not one person ever uttered the word “privacy” in their responses to us. Instead, they talked about “user control” or “user options” or promoted the “openness of the platform.” It was as if a memo had been circulated that morning instructing them never to use the word “privacy.””
In the afternoon working group on privacy, there was robust discussion whether we had consensus on what privacy even means. Words like autonomy, control, and choice came up a lot. But it was only a beginning. There is opportunity for better. An academic voice raised the concept of sovereignty with which I agreed, but how and where to fit it into wording, which is at once both minimal and applied, and under a scribe who appeared frustrated and wanted a completely different approach from what he heard across the group, meant it was left out.
This group do care about privacy. But I wasn’t convinced that the room cared in the way that the public as a whole does, but rather only as consumers and customers do. But IoT products will affect potentially everyone, even those who do not buy your stuff. Everyone in that room, agreed on one thing. The status quo is not good enough. What we did not agree on, was why, and what was the minimum change needed to make a enough of a difference that matters.
I share the deep concerns of many child rights academics who see the harm that efforts to avoid restrictions Article 8 the GDPR will impose. It is likely to be damaging for children’s right to access information, be discriminatory according to parents’ prejudices or socio-economic status, and ‘cheating’ – requiring secrecy rather than privacy, in attempts to hide or work round the stringent system.
In ‘The Class’ the research showed, ” teachers and young people have a lot invested in keeping their spheres of interest and identity separate, under their autonomous control, and away from the scrutiny of each other.” [2016, Livingstone and Sefton-Green, p235]
Employers require staff use devices with single sign including web and activity tracking and monitoring software. Employee personal data and employment data are blended. Who owns that data, what rights will employees have to refuse what they see as excessive, and is it manageable given the power imbalance between employer and employee?
What is this doing in the classroom and boardroom for stress, anxiety, performance and system and social avoidance strategies?
A desire for convenience creates shortcuts, and these are often met using systems that require a sign-on through the platforms giants: Google, Facebook, Twitter, et al. But we are kept in the dark how by using these platforms, that gives access to them, and the companies, to see how our online and offline activity is all joined up.
Any illusion of privacy we maintain, we discussed, is not choice or control if based on ignorance, and backlash against companies lack of efforts to ensure disclosure and understanding is growing.
“The lack of accountability isn’t just troubling from a philosophical perspective. It’s dangerous in a political climate where people are pushing back at the very idea of globalization. There’s no industry more globalized than tech, and no industry more vulnerable to a potential backlash.”
If your connected *thing* requires registration, why does it? How about a commitment to not forcing one of these registration methods or indeed any at all? Social Media Research by Pew Research in 2016 found that 56% of smartphone owners ages 18 to 29 use auto-delete apps, more than four times the share among those 30-49 (13%) and six times the share among those 50 or older (9%).
Does that tell us anything about the demographics of data retention preferences?
In 2012, they suggested social media has changed the public discussion about managing “privacy” online. When asked, people say that privacy is important to them; when observed, people’s actions seem to suggest otherwise.
Does that tell us anything about how well companies communicate to consumers how their data is used and what rights they have?
There is also data with strong indications about how women act to protect their privacy more but when it comes to basic privacy settings, users of all ages are equally likely to choose a private, semi-private or public setting for their profile. There are no significant variations across age groups in the US sample.
Now think about why that matters for the IoT? I wonder who makes the bulk of purchasing decsions about household white goods for example and has Bosch factored that into their smart-fridges-only decision?
Do you *need* to know who the user is? Can the smart user choose to stay anonymous at all?
The day’s morning challenge was to attend more than one interesting discussion happening at the same time. As invariably happens, the session notes and quotes are always out of context and can’t possibly capture everything, no matter how amazing the volunteer (with thanks!). But here are some of the discussion points from the session on the body and health devices, the home, and privacy. It also included a discussion on racial discrimination, algorithmic bias, and the reasons why care.data failed patients and failed as a programme. We had lengthy discussion on ethics and privacy: smart meters, objections to models of price discrimination, and why pay-for-privacy harms the poor by design.
Smart meter data can track the use of unique appliances inside a person’s home and intimate patterns of behaviour. Information about our consumption of power, what and when every day, reveals personal details about everyday lives, our interactions with others, and personal habits.
Why should company convenience come above the consumer’s? Why should government powers, trump personal rights?
Smart meter is among the knowledge that government is exploiting, without consent, to discover a whole range of issues, including ensuring that “Troubled Families are identified”. Knowing how dodgy some of the school behaviour data might be, that helps define who is “troubled” there is a real question here, is this sound data science? How are errors identified? What about privacy? It’s not your policy, but if it is your product, what are your responsibilities?
If companies do not respect children’s rights, you’d better shape up to be GDPR compliant
For children and young people, more vulnerable to nudge, and while developing their sense of self can involve forming, and questioning their identity, these influences need oversight or be avoided.
In terms of GDPR, providers are going to pay particular attention to Article 8 ‘information society services’ and parental consent, Article 17 on profiling, and rights to restriction of processing (19) right to erasure in recital 65 and rights to portability. (20) However, they may need to simply reassess their exploitation of children and young people’s personal data and behavioural data. Article 57 requires special attention to be paid by regulators to activities specifically targeted at children, as ‘vulnerable natural persons’ of recital 75.
Human Rights, regulations and conventions overlap in similar principles that demand respect for a child, and right to be let alone:
(a) The development of the child ‘s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential;
(b) The development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations.
A weakness of the GDPR is that it allows derogation on age and will create inequality and inconsistency for children as a result. By comparison Article one of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) defines who is to be considered a “child” for the purposes of the CRC, and states that: “For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.”<
Article two of the CRC says that States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind.
CRC Article 16 says that no child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her honour and reputation.
Article 8 CRC requires respect for the right of the child to preserve his or her identity […] without unlawful interference.
Article 12 CRC demands States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.
That stands in potential conflict with GDPR article 8. There is much on GDPR on derogations by country, and or children, still to be set.
What next for our data in the wild
Hosting the event at the zoo offered added animals, and during a lunch tour we got out on a tour, kindly hosted by a fellow participant. We learned how smart technology was embedded in some of the animal enclosures, and work on temperature sensors with penguins for example. I love tigers, so it was a bonus that we got to see such beautiful and powerful animals up close, if a little sad for their circumstances and as a general basic principle, seeing big animals caged as opposed to in-the-wild.
Freedom is a common desire in all animals. Physical, mental, and freedom from control by others.
I think any manufacturer that underestimates this element of human instinct is ignoring the ‘hidden dragon’ that some think is a myth. Privacy is not dead. It is not extinct, or even unlike the beautiful tigers, endangered. Privacy in the IoT at its most basic, is the right to control our purchasing power. The ultimate people power waiting to be sprung. Truly a crouching tiger. People object to being used and if companies continue to do so without full disclosure, they do so at their peril. Companies seem all-powerful in the battle for privacy, but they are not. Even insurers and data brokers must be fair and lawful, and it is for regulators to ensure that practices meet the law.
When consumers realise our data, our purchasing power has the potential to control, not be controlled, that balance will shift.
“Paper tigers” are superficially powerful but are prone to overextension that leads to sudden collapse. If that happens to the superficially powerful companies that choose unethical and bad practice, as a result of better data privacy and data ethics, then bring it on.
I hope that the IoT mark can champion best practices and make a difference to benefit everyone.
While the companies involved in its design may be interested in consumers, I believe it could be better for everyone, done well. The great thing about the efforts into an #IoTmark is that it is a collective effort to improve the whole ecosystem.
I hope more companies will realise their privacy rights and ethical responsibility in the world to all people, including those interested in just being, those who want to be let alone, and not just those buying.
“If a cat is called a tiger it can easily be dismissed as a paper tiger; the question remains however why one was so scared of the cat in the first place.”
Time and again, thinking and discussion about these topics is siloed. At the Turing Institute, the Royal Society, the ADRN and EPSRC, in government departments, discussions on data, or within education practitioner, and public circles — we are all having similar discussions about data and ethics, but with little ownership and no goals for future outcomes. If government doesn’t get it, or have time for it, or policy lacks ethics by design, is it in the public interest for private companies, Google et al., to offer a fait accompli?
There is lots of talking about Machine Learning (ML), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and ethics. But what is being done to ensure that real values — respect for rights, human dignity, and autonomy — are built into practice in the public services delivery?
Predictive analytics is growing but poorly understood in the public and public sector.
There is already dependence on computers in aspects of public sector work. Its interactions with others in sensitive situations demands better knowledge of how systems operate and can be wrong. Debt recovery, and social care to take two known examples.
Risk averse, staff appear to choose not to question the outcome of ‘algorithmic decision making’ or do not have the ability to do so. There is reportedly no analysis training for practitioners, to understand the basis or bias of conclusions. This has the potential that instead of making us more informed, decision-making by machine makes us humans less clever.
What does it do to professionals, if they feel therefore less empowered? When is that a good thing if it overrides discriminatory human decisions? How can we tell the difference and balance these risks if we don’t understand or feel able to challenge them?
In education, what is it doing to children whose attainment is profiled, predicted, and acted on to target extra or less focus from school staff, who have no ML training and without informed consent of pupils or parents?
If authorities use data in ways the public do not expect, such as to ID homes of multiple occupancy without informed consent, they will fail the future to deliver uses for good. The ‘public interest’, ‘user need,’ and ethics can come into conflict according to your point of view. The public and data protection law and ethics object to harms from use of data. This type of application has potential to be mind-blowingly invasive and reveal all sorts of other findings.
Widely informed thinking must be made into meaningful public policy for the greatest public good
Our politicians are caught up in the General Election and buried in Brexit.
Meanwhile, the commercial companies taking AI first rights to capitalise on existing commercial advantage could potentially strip public assets, use up our personal data and public trust, and leave the public with little public good. We are already used by global data players, and by machine-based learning companies, without our knowledge or consent. That knowledge can be used to profit business models, that pay little tax into the public purse.
There are valid macro economic arguments about whether private spend and investment are preferable compared with a state’s ability to do the same. But these companies make more than enough to do it all. Does it signal a failure to a commitment to the wider community; not paying just amounts of taxes, is it a red flag to a company’s commitment to public good?
What that public good should look like, depends on who is invited to participate in the room, and not to tick boxes, but to think and to build.
The Royal Society’s Report on AI and Machine Learning published on April 25, showed a working group of 14 participants, including two Google DeepMind representatives, one from Amazon, private equity investors, and academics from cognitive science and genetics backgrounds.
If we are going to form objective policies the inputs that form the basis for them must be informed, but must also be well balanced, and be seen to be balanced. Not as an add on, but be in the same room.
As Natasha Lomas in TechCrunch noted, “Public opinion is understandably a big preoccupation for the report authors — unsurprisingly so, given that a technology that potentially erodes people’s privacy and impacts their jobs risks being drastically unpopular.”
“The report also calls on researchers to consider the wider impact of their work and to receive training in recognising the ethical implications.”
What are those ethical implications? Who decides which matter most? How do we eliminate recognised discriminatory bias? What should data be used for and AI be working on at all? Who is it going to benefit? What questions are we not asking? Why are young people left out of this debate?
Who decides what the public should or should not know?
AI and ML depend on data. Data is often talked about as a panacea to problems of better working together. But data alone does not make people better informed. In the same way that they fail, if they don’t feel it is their job to pick up the fax. A fundamental building block of our future public and private prosperity is understanding data and how we, and the AI, interact. What is data telling us and how do we interpret it, and know it is accurate?
How and where will we start to educate young people about data and ML, if not about their own and use by government and commercial companies?
The whole of Chapter 5 in the report is very good as a starting point for policy makers who have not yet engaged in the area. Privacy while summed up too short in conclusions, is scattered throughout.
Blind spots remain, however.
Over willingness to accommodate existing big private players as their expertise leads design, development and a desire to ‘re-write regulation’.
Slowness to react to needed regulation in the public sector (caught up in Brexit) while commercial drivers and technology change forge ahead
‘How do we develop technology that benefits everyone’ must not only think UK, but global South, especially in the bias in how AI is being to taught, and broad socio-economic barriers in application
Predictive analytics and professional application = unwillingness to question the computer result. In children’s social care this is already having a damaging upturn in the family courts (S31)
Data and technology knowledge and ethics training, must be embedded across the public sector, not only post grad students in machine learning.
Children and young people have the most to lose while their education, skills, jobs market, economy, culture, care, and society goes through a series of gradual but seismic shift in purpose, culture, and acceptance before finding new norms post-Brexit. They will also gain the most if the foundations are right. One of these must be getting age verification right in GDPR, not allowing it to enable a massive data grab of child-parent privacy.
Although the RS Report considers young people in the context of a future workforce who need skills training, they are otherwise left out of this report.
“The next curriculum reform needs to consider the educational needs of young people through the lens of the implications of machine learning and associated technologies for the future of work.”
Yes it does, but it must give young people and the implications of ML broader consideration for their future, than classroom or workplace.
At the end of this Information Age we are at a point when machine learning, AI and biotechnology are potentially life enhancing or could have catastrophic effects, if indeed “AI will cause people ‘more pain than happiness” as described by Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma.
The conflict between commercial profit and public good, what commercial companies say they will do and actually do, and fears and assurances over predicted outcomes is personified in the debate between Demis Hassabis, co-founder of DeepMind Technologies, (a London-based machine learning AI startup), and Elon Musk, discussing the perils of artificial intelligence.
Vanity Fair reported that, “Elon Musk began warning about the possibility of A.I. running amok three years ago. It probably hadn’t eased his mind when one of Hassabis’s partners in DeepMind, Shane Legg, stated flatly, “I think human extinction will probably occur, and technology will likely play a part in this.””
Musk was of the opinion that A.I. was probably humanity’s “biggest existential threat.”
We are not yet joining up multi disciplinary and cross sector discussions of threats and opportunities
Jobs, shift in needed skill sets for education, how we think, interact, value each other, accept or reject ownership and power models; and later, from the technology itself. We are not yet talking conversely, the opportunities that the seismic shifts offer in real terms. Or how and why to accept or reject or regulate them.
Where private companies are taking over personal data given in trust to public services, it is reckless for the future of public interest research to assume there is no public objection. How can we object, if not asked? How can children make an informed choice? How will public interest be assured to be put ahead of private profit? If it is intended on balance to be all about altruism from these global giants, then they must be open and accountable.
Private companies are shaping how and where we find machine learning and AI gathering data about our behaviours in our homes and public spaces.
SPACE10, an innovation hub for IKEA is currently running a survey on how the public perceives and “wants their AI to look, be, and act”, with an eye on building AI into their products, for us to bring flat-pack into our houses.
As the surveillance technology built into the Things in our homes attached to the Internet becomes more integral to daily life, authorities are now using it to gather evidence in investigations; from mobile phones, laptops, social media, smart speakers, and games. The IoT so far seems less about the benefits of collaboration, and all about the behavioural data it collects and uses to target us to sell us more things. Our behaviours tell much more than how we act. They show how we think inside the private space of our minds.
It is not overstated to say society and future public good of public services, depends on getting any co-dependencies right. As I wrote in the time of care.data, the economic value of data, personal rights and the public interest are not opposed to one another, but have synergies and co-dependency. One player getting it wrong, can create harm for all. Government must start to care about this, beyond the side effects of saving political embarrassment.
Without joining up all aspects, we cannot limit harms and make the most of benefits. There is nuance and unknowns. There is opaque decision making and secrecy, packaged in the wording of commercial sensitivity and behind it, people who can be brilliant but at the end of the day, are also, human, with all our strengths and weaknesses.
And we can get this right, if data practices get better, with joined up efforts.
Our future society, as our present, is based on webs of trust, on our social networks on- and offline, that enable business, our education, our cultural, and our interactions. Children must trust they will not be used by systems. We must build trustworthy systems that enable future digital integrity.
The immediate harm that comes from blind trust in AI companies is not their AI, but the hidden powers that commercial companies have to nudge public and policy maker behaviours and acceptance, towards private gain. Their ability and opportunity to influence regulation and future direction outweighs most others. But lack of transparency about their profit motives is concerning. Carefully staged public engagement is not real engagement but a fig leaf to show ‘the public say yes’.
The unwillingness by Google DeepMind, when asked at their public engagement event, to discuss their past use of NHS patient data, or the profit model plan or their terms of NHS deals with London hospitals, should be a warning that these questions need answers and accountability urgently.
Companies that have already extracted and benefited from personal data in the public sector, have already made private profit. They and their machines have learned for their future business product development.
A transparent accountable future for all players, private and public, using public data is a necessary requirement for both the public good and private profit. It is not acceptable for departments to hide their practices, just as it is unacceptable if firms refuse algorithmic transparency.
If the State creates a single data source of truth, or private Giant tech thinks it can side-step regulation and gets it wrong, their practices screw up public trust. It harms public interest research, and with it our future public good.
But will they care?
If we care, then across public and private sectors, we must cherish shared values and better collaboration. Embed ethical human values into development, design and policy. Ensure transparency of where, how, who and why my personal data has gone.
We must ensure that as the future becomes “smarter”, we educate ourselves and our children to stay intelligent about how we use data and AI.
We must start today, knowing how we are used by both machines, and man.
Applicants and students’ personal data is being shifted into a top-down management model, at the same time as the horizontal safeguards for its distribution are to be scrapped.
Through deregulation and the building of a centralised framework, these bills will weaken the purposes for which personal data are collected, and weaken existing requirements on consent to which the data may be used at national level. Without amendments, every student who enters this system will find their personal data used at the discretion of any future Secretary of State for Education without safeguards or oversight, and forever. Goodbye privacy.
But in addition and separately, the Bill will permit data to be used at the discretion of the Secretary of State, which waters down and removes nuances of consent for what data may or may not be used today when applicants sign up to UCAS.
This removal of today’s consent process denies all students their rights to decide who may use their personal data beyond the purposes for which they permit its sharing.
And it explicitly overrides the express wishes registered by the 28,000 applicants, 66% of respondents to a 2015 UCAS survey, who said as an example, that they should be asked before any data was provided to third parties for student loan applications (or even that their data should never be provided for this).
Not only can the future purposes be changed without limitation, by definition, when combined with other legislation, namely the Digital Economy Bill that is in the Lords at the same time right now, this shift will pass personal data together with DWP and in connection with HMRC data expressly to the Student Loans Company.
In just this one example, the Higher Education and Research Bill is being used as a man in the middle. But it will enable all data for broad purposes, and if those expand in future, we’ll never know.
This change, far from making more data available to public interest research, shifts the balance of power between state and citizen and undermines the very fabric of its source of knowledge; the creation and collection of personal data.
Further, a number of amendments have been proposed in the Lords to clause 9 (the transparency duty) which raise more detailed privacy issues for all prospective students, concerns UCAS share.
Why this lack of privacy by design is damaging
This shift takes away our control, and gives it to the State at the very time when ‘take back control’ is in vogue. These bills are building a foundation for a data Brexit.
And without future limitation, what might be imposed is unknown.
This shortsightedness will ultimately cause damage to data integrity and the damage won’t come in education data from the Higher Education Bill alone. The Higher Education and Research Bill is just one of three bills sweeping through Parliament right now which build a cumulative anti-privacy storm together, in what is labelled overtly as data sharing legislation or is hidden in tucked away clauses.
Unlike the Higher Education and Research Bill, it may not fundamentally changing how the State gathers information on further education, but it has the potential to do so on use.
The change is a generalisation of purposes. Currently, subsection 1 of section 54 refers to “purposes of the exercise of any of the functions of the Secretary of State under Part 4 of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009”.
Therefore, the government argues, “it would not hold good in circumstances where certain further education functions were transferred from the Secretary of State to some combined authorities in England, which is due to happen in 2018.”<
This is why clause 38 will amend that wording to “purposes connected with further education”.
Whatever the details of the reason, the purposes are broader.
Again, combined with the Digital Economy Bill’s open ended purposes, it means the Secretary of State could agree to pass these data on to every other government department, a range of public bodies, and some private organisations.
These loose purposes, without future restrictions, definitions of third parties it could be given to or why, or clear need to consult the public or parliament on future scope changes, is a repeat of similar legislative changes which have resulted in poor data practices using school pupil data in England age 2-19 since 2000.
Policy makers should consider whether the intent of these three bills is to give out identifiable, individual level, confidential data of young people under 18, for commercial use without their consent? Or to journalists and charities access? Should it mean unfettered access by government departments and agencies such as police and Home Office Removals Casework teams without any transparent register of access, any oversight, or accountability?
These are today’s uses by third-parties of school children’s individual, identifiable and sensitive data from the National Pupil Database.
Uses of data not as statistics, but named individuals for interventions in individual lives.
Hoping that the data transfers to the Home Office won’t result in the deportation of thousands we would not predict today, may be naive.
Under the new open wording, the Secretary of State for Education might even decide to sell the nation’s entire Technical and Further Education student data to Trump University for the purposes of their ‘research’ to target marketing at UK students or institutions that may be potential US post-grad applicants. The Secretary of State will have the data simply because she “may require [it] for purposes connected with further education.”
And to think US buyers or others would not be interested is too late.
If these are not the intended purposes of these three bills, if there should be any limitation on purposes of use and future scope change, then safeguards and oversight need built into the face of the bills to ensure data privacy is protected and avoid repeating the same again.
Hoping that the decision is always going to be, ‘they wouldn’t approve a request like that’ is not enough to protect millions of students privacy.
The three bills are a perfect privacy storm
As other Europeans seek to strengthen the fundamental rights of their citizens to take back control of their personal data under the GDPR coming into force in May 2018, the UK government is pre-emptively undermining ours in these three bills.
Reality is that in post-truth politics it seems anything goes, on both sides of the Pond. So how will we trust what our data is used for?
2015-16 advice from the cross party Science and Technology Committee suggested data privacy is unsatisfactory, “to be left unaddressed by Government and without a clear public-policy position set out“. We hear the need for data privacy debated about use of consumer data, social media, and on using age verification. It’s necessary to secure the public trust needed for long term public benefit and for economic value derived from data to be achieved.
But the British government seems intent on shortsighted legislation which does entirely the opposite for its own use: in the Higher Education Bill, the Technical and Further Education Bill and in the Digital Economy Bill.
These bills share what Baroness Chakrabarti said of the Higher Education Bill in its Lords second reading on the 6th December, “quite an achievement for a policy to combine both unnecessary authoritarianism with dangerous degrees of deregulation.”
Unchecked these Bills create the conditions needed for catastrophic failure of public trust. They shift ever more personal data away from personal control, into the centralised control of the Secretary of State for unclear purposes and use by undefined third parties. They jeopardise the collection and integrity of public administrative data.
To future-proof the immediate integrity of student personal data collection and use, the DfE reputation, and public and professional trust in DfE political leadership, action must be taken on safeguards and oversight, and should consider:
Transparency register: a public record of access, purposes, and benefits to be achieved from use
Subject Access Requests: Providing the public ways to access copies of their own data
Consent procedures should be strengthened for collection and cannot say one thing, and do another
Ability to withdraw consent from secondary purposes should be built in by design, looking to GDPR from 2018
Clarification of the legislative purpose of intended current use by the Secretary of State and its boundaries shoud be clear
Future purpose and scope change limitations should require consultation – data collected today must not used quite differently tomorrow without scrutiny and ability to opt out (i.e. population wide registries of religion, ethnicity, disability)
Review or sunset clause
If the legislation in these three bills pass without amendment, the potential damage to privacy will be lasting.
Schools Minister Nick Gibb responded on July 25th 2016: ”
“These new data items will provide valuable statistical information on the characteristics of these groups of children […] “The data will be collected solely for internal Departmental use for the analytical, statistical and research purposes described above. There are currently no plans to share the data with other government Departments”