One of the most significant challenges we face as part of the connected world is privacy. Companies continuously struggle with keeping proprietary information from the clutches of competitors and cyber attackers out to outdo them no matter what. Individuals, meanwhile, continually battle with malicious eavesdroppers on social media and other online platforms and, yes, invasive technologies that seem to have the knack for knowing all about them.
So while we all reap the benefits of getting served what we like, be that online shopping recommendations, movies or TV series to watch, content to read, or even who to add to our contact lists, we all worry at times about invasion of privacy. And since AI enables the technologies that learn all about us, is it truly to blame?
AI: A Boon to Industries
AI is behind several advancements across today’s industries. The technology powers a lot of the systems that allow our favorite brands to get to know us better and fulfill our wants and needs at the least possible time. To date, we see AI systems at work in various sectors, including:
- Military: AI systems predict potential threat sources, streamline decision-making processes, and aid in personnel selection and training.
- Environment: AI systems measure waste and pollution, predict the occurrence of natural disasters and weather, and track carbon footprint.
- Marketing: AI systems improve social media marketing, help discover untapped opportunities, and improve demand forecasts.
- Healthcare: AI systems help with prescription management, health monitoring and assessment, clinical documentation, and early illness detection and even aid disease mapping during an outbreak and enable faster drug discovery through simulations.
- Legal: AI systems enhance legal research, aid in witness cross-examinations, assist in jury selection, and hasten client interviews.
- Cybersecurity: AI systems hasten threat discovery and detection and enable security analysts to deal with digital forensic requirements.
Judging by this list alone, you can see that AI is all around us. Given all these, should we care if AI systems do invade our privacy?
AI: A Bane to Privacy?
Why would people think that AI systems invade their privacy? The answer is pretty simple: AI requires a lot of data to determine what we like, need, or want. And most often than not, the information AI systems get is personal. Let’s face it; we don’t want to publicize all of our browser search terms, for one, because we all have guilty pleasures. And in a nutshell, that’s what AI does. It looks at our entire digital footprint so social media platforms can serve us the right ads, e-commerce sites can tell us what we may wish to buy, or banks to offer us loans or credit cards. For some, that can be overwhelming.
That is precisely the reason why we see companies investigated or even fined for invasion of privacy. Maybe some of them are taking things over the top, and so we see deep probes such as:
- Google: In January 2019, the Internet giant shelled out US$57 million as payment to the European Union (EU) for not properly disclosing how it uses the user data it collects from Google, Google Maps, and YouTube to present personalized ads.
- Facebook: The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined social media mogul Mark Zuckerberg US$5 billion for the Cambridge Analytica scandal and other privacy breaches in July 2019.
Nations are thus clamoring for a clampdown on what some dub a violation of their privacy and human rights.
AI and Privacy: Putting the Pieces Together
While the executive branches of governments worldwide are proposing reforms to current laws to address the problem, AI system proponents and users have been doing their share as well. Maybe it is time for AI regulation. But while debates ensue and the rest of the global population awaits the decision, which could take a long time, current users can probably subscribe to the idea of striking a balance.
We all know that we can’t do without AI anymore. We’ve grown accustomed to getting suggestions from our computers and smartphones or even our smart home assistants, but we still don’t want our appliances to tell others everything about us. And so, for now, maybe AI-powered device manufacturers and users can at least be transparent about how they collect data, what they use it for, and who they share it to. They should also give their subjects the option to refuse data collection if they want to.
It’s not a one-way street, though. End users, for their part, should take accountability and responsibility for the amount of data they share online, too. There are, after all, ways to turn data collection off if you feel it’s invading your privacy.
At the end of the day, we all make the final decision. In the AI era, that translates to how we answer the question, “Convenience or privacy, what do you hold dearer?”