Today, data privacy and data science are at odds. Increasingly, regulations are in effect to protect our data from misuse. Individuals have preferences over how their data is collected, processed, and shared. Meanwhile, machine learning can help us solve truly important problems, but such problems often deal with sensitive, personal data.
On one hand we want our data to help make the world better, but on the other hand we have a human right to privacy. Unfortunately today, we can’t control how our data is used. Once our data is shared, it’s out of our control. We may share our location with a weather app, for example, but it may be sold and reused for undisclosed purposes.
Privacy-enhancing technology will create a better world.
We know now that the carbon emissions from combustion engines are harmful. We know that sustainable energy sources and electric motors are better for the environment. We also know that data is useful. We know it’s being collected by products and services. Unfortunately, there is a so-called data exhaust: the unintended consequences of sharing our data. These consequences can extend silently, beyond invasions of personal privacy, into social manipulation and oppression.
Zero-emission vehicles are now a reality. Privacy-enhancing technology is also possible, but it will take time and money, which is why we created Cape; the purpose of our company is to make privacy-enhancing technology a reality. We believe that a company is the most sustainable structure to bring new technology to the world, when combined with open source, research, and community.
Technology should protect our privacy by default.
The products and services we use should protect our privacy by default. For individuals, this may mean using voice assistants or genetic testing without the inhibitions we so often have today. Hospitals could use sensitive patient data for better treatments, earlier diagnosis, and ultimately prevention. Companies could share proprietary data with their competitors to solve mutual problems, like anti-money laundering.
Privacy-enhancing technology should be accessible.
To truly have an impact, we believe the solution must be open source, so that it’s freely available to developers. It should find its way into the consumer apps we interact with daily, as well as the enterprise services which are trusted custodians of our personal data.
The research into new privacy techniques should be published and peer-reviewed. This helps to strengthen the cryptography behind individual protocols, and to advance the field in general.
We must make privacy-enhancing technology easy to work with. This means it must be fast, simple, and compatible with existing workflows and tools. It wasn’t that long ago that HTTPS was complicated to implement, and it made page loads drastically slower. At that time it was only used for the most sensitive use cases like online banking and payments. Today, secure websites are the default. It’s what we expect, and it has significantly increased our trust in the Internet.
Cape the world.
It’s Cape’s aim to make privacy-enhancing technology fast and easy. In the future, our most useful applications will be the ones we trust with our most sensitive data. Machine learning can help us change the world for the better, but we must embrace it responsibly.