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Written by Silvia Bitchkei on 2 July 2019

What about Ethics? Privacy and Data in a Changing World

Our world is evolving. New cities, new paradigms in living, and Industry 4.0 require smart technology to deal with modern needs.

When we think of a smart city, we often imagine a place where our every need is met before we even know we need something. We can breathe clean air, have cheap and clean energy, transport works well, and our homes are filled with helpful devices. The smart city is so-named because it works in an intelligent way to build sustainable cities that optimize the needs of a growing population. Similarly, smart industry conjures up robots performing repetitive tasks and optimizing industrial processes.

This utopian vision is coming to fruition in countries like Canada. The Canadian Smart Cities Challenge, for example, is about empowering whole communities to make their living spaces better through smart technology. Competitions offer financial prizes to build this smart future.

However, smart cities and industries are not just built on a backbone of smart technology; they consume data – data that is often highly personal and sensitive data provided from individuals. This dovetailing of technology with data is where ethics enter the smart technology equation.


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Disclaimer: This blog article was written for general information and does not claim to provide legal advice. To understand the full context of data privacy and ethics for your organization, please consult with a privacy compliance and/or legal professional.

When Technology and Ethics Come Together

Smart technology alongside user data is used to optimize things like city infrastructure, industrial processes, and healthcare. The juncture at which these two pieces come together is where ethical decisions need to be made.

And the decisions are multi-faceted, they cut across city planning, industry and manufacturing, technology design, and data privacy and security. This complex web of considerations that requires input from a number of disciplines.

Related Post: Is Cybersecurity the Same as Data Privacy?

A quote from NIST’s “Introduction to Privacy Engineering and Risk Management in Federal System” sums up the issue:

Protecting privacy is often said to require a multidisciplinary approach including law, sociology, information security, ethics and economics.

This intersection of data and technology is described in Gartner’s “Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2019”. Gartner breaks this down into three key areas:

  1. Intelligent:
    1. Autonomous things
    2. Augmented analytics
    3. AI-driven development
  2. Digital:
    1. Digital twin
    2. Empowered edge
    3. Immersive experience
  3. Mesh:
    1. Blockchain
    2. Smart Spaces

Gartner overlay all of the three key areas of smart technology with quantum computing. Also importantly, this overlay extends to ethics and privacy.

Gartner views digital ethics as an umbrella framework that should inform the design and application of smart technology. Within the smart technology arena sit a number of technologies and technical methodologies that come under the ethics spotlight when it comes to data privacy and ethics.

Technologies and Technical Methodologies Related to Ethics

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  • Cloud computing
  • 5G Internet
  • Smart contracts and blockchain technologies
  • Regtech/ Intelligence Data Management
  • Crypto-ADA with governance by design
  • Differential privacy and privacy engineering techniques

In addition, many emerging technologies are beginning to feel the long-reach of regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Techniques like differential privacy are being used by Apple as part of its privacy by design approach. But the very nature of smart technologies makes them candidates for ethical scrutiny too.

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Trust and Emerging Technology

When technology becomes smart, it crosses a boundary that can impinge on the protection of human beings. Ethics are there to police the misuse of such technology.

Privacy by design, when applied to product development, can enhance a solution; similarly, applying an ethical design process will improve smart technologies.

From this ethos, the concept of “Trust and Emerging Tech” has been developed. Ethics in technology is a growing movement and many are beginning the process of becoming more ethical in their development, implementation, and usage of these technologies.

Some interesting thoughts and developments to pull out of this discussion include the following.

In a study by Widarto Rachbidi, in the International Journal of Advanced Research, it was found that:

The results of the study show that Internet consumers trust, perceived risk, and perceived benefit have strong impacts on their purchasing intention and decisions

World-renowned economist Daniel Kahneman argues that:

If today’s technology giant don’t do anything to address this unease in an environment of growing dependence, people may start looking for more trustworthy companies and systems to use

Not-for-profit organizations such as the Me2B Alliance are starting the process of vetting technology companies in terms of the ethical stance of the organization and technology solutions.

Trust in emerging technology is a wave that will affect everyone; but if we ride that wave, it will create a better environment for all.

With Gains Come Challenges: Ethics by Design

Of course, nothing is ever easy it seems, and there are challenges in designing to an ethical specification.

The “Declaration on Ethics and Data Protection in Artificial Intelligence” is about the inclusion of fairness, transparency, and privacy by design in the creation of AI-based solutions. It was adopted on October 23rd, 2018 at the 40th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners.

One of the things the declaration mentions is the idea of “Ethics by Design”. It discusses the design of intelligent systems with an ethical stance which it states should be from the very start of the development process.

It goes beyond the ethos of Privacy by Design by including how technology can impact an individual or a community at large. It also draws in how the ethics of intelligent solutions should be outlined in the requirements of the design.

An Ethical and Smart Future

Industries and cities across the globe are turning to smart technologies to solve complex problems. In doing so, they generate and analyze subject data to feed intelligent applications. This brings enormous responsibility in ensuring the ethical use of these data. In applying a privacy-enhanced and ethical approach when building technological solutions, we must start by embracing the idea of Ethical by Design. This begins at the beginning by acknowledging ethical requirements at the design stage.

Being ‘smart’ is not just about fixing problems, it is also about not creating new ones in the process. The resulting ethical but smart technology will help to create smart cities and industries that we will be proud to be part of and that consumers love.

If you’d like to find out more about your various data privacy obligations, we recommend conducting a privacy impact assessment. It helps public and private entities understand, evaluate and meet their various privacy obligations such as those mentioned in the Privacy Act, PIPEDA, GDPR or any provincial/state law.

Hitachi Systems Security approaches security and privacy as interrelated concepts which must inform each other. Creating a privacy concept while meeting legal requirements involves an interdisciplinary approach with several areas of expertise.

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