SXSW panel heats up over big data privacy concerns

Google was a no-show at a panel that promised to let privacy advocates and Google debate consumer data aggregation

A Sunday afternoon panel designed to address head-on privacy concerns stemming from so-called "big data" collection sparked passions even though both Facebook and Google, whose privacy practices draw most consternation from critics, declined to participate, leaving no one to take the side of industry.

Moderator Molly Wood, the executive director of CBS Interactive, said Facebook didn't feel it had any staff at SXSW who could speak on the issue. Google's privacy counsel Will DeVries was scheduled to participate but bowed out, citing ongoing litigation with the privacy advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center, whose representative Lillie Coney was also on the panel.

Coney said that EPIC was not in litigation with Google, nor does it ever sue corporations. EPIC did recently sue the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, pushing it to take action to block implementation of the company's controversial consolidated privacy policy that took effect March 1. EPIC lost that suit, although it could appeal to the Supreme Court.

Coney called Google's apparent understanding of the action as legal action against the company as "a very strange way to take the regulatory process and the mechanisms that are available to civil society, or even individuals".

Google did not respond to requests for comment.

Even without Google and Facebook in attendance, the panel was hard-fought as Coney and Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union, battled Berin Szoka, president of the libertarian-leaning nonprofit TechFreedom, over whether the collection and increasingly sophisticated analysis of large amounts of user data for use in corporate marketing constitutes a real harm to consumers and whether government regulators should step in.

Szoka cited an "assumption in the privacy debate that it's unusual that the doing of things precedes the figuring out what we should do about it, but that's how the Internet works". His approach is "sometimes derided as a patchwork approach", he said, "But to me that's a good approach. Government should get involved when there's actual harm."

Privacy advocates Coney and Stanley pointed to other industries, like the auto industry, to make the case that government should regulate practices that pose a clear risk. Coney said that if and when demonstrable harms to consumers come from big data, they, too, will be outsized, affecting thousands of people.

Stanley pointed to Gmail as an example. Calling it "the first step toward the application of artificial intelligence monitoring us," he said, "It's not that smart yet, so it's not that scary. But as it gets smarter it will get scarier, when you get to artificial intelligence levels that approach humans and they're still reading your mail."

The audience appeared to side with privacy advocates. One questioner who identified himself as building social networking applications for the Apple platform said he feared harming his own customers. "If we can't as an industry even defend passwords, how can we protect privacy?" he asked.

Cameron Scott covers search, web services and privacy for The IDG News Service. Follow Cameron on Twitter at CScott_IDG.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

More about AppleCBS CorporationElectronic Privacy Information CenterFacebookFederal Trade CommissionFTCGoogleIDGScott Corporation

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Cameron Scott

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place