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Experts speak out against ‘fear-mongering’ over data privacy concerns

SINGAPORE – Concerns about data privacy are overblown and people should ask themselves if they are "willing to die for their data", a data science expert argued on Friday (June 29).

Experts speak out against ‘fear-mongering’ over data privacy concerns

The breakout session on the theme “Finding the Terrorist in Big and Small Data” was moderated by (from left to right) Mr Cheong Chee Hoo. Speakers included: Prof Anthony Finkelstein, Dr Kira Radinsky, Prof Neil Robertson and Dr Wu Shuang.

SINGAPORE – Concerns about data privacy are overblown and people should ask themselves if they are "willing to die for their data", a data science expert argued on Friday (June 29).

Speaking during a panel discussion at the inaugural Singapore Defence Technology Summit, Dr Kira Radinsky — director of data science and chief scientist at eBay Israel — sought to make the case that it does more good than harm for governments and firms to use vast amount of citizens' data for various ends.

In fact, if controls over data are too restrictive, the progress of research could be impeded, said Dr Radinsky, 32, citing how patient data can be used to advance medical breakthroughs.

She also pointed to how data amassed by Facebook could be used to analyse individuals' social networks, and identify those who could be isolated and possibly at risk of depression.

"The question is, are you willing to die for your data? This is what is happening now… (It's about) which applications you are willing to allow the state (to have access to)," said Dr Radinsky, stressing that there is no such thing as "real privacy" and the collection of data has been going on for a long time.

Dr Radinsky was the founder of SalesPredict, which was acquired by eBay in 2016.

She gained international recognition for her work at Israel's Technion and Microsoft Research where she developed predictive algorithms that recognised early warning signs of globally impactful events, such as disease epidemics and political unrests.

In 2013, she was named one of MIT Technology Review's "35 Young Innovators Under 35" and in 2015, Forbes included her as "30 Under 30 Rising Stars in Enterprise Tech".

On Friday, she was part of a panel discussing the use of "small and big data" to identify potential terrorists.

Apart from Dr Radinsky, the other panellists were United Kingdom chief scientific adviser for national security Anthony Finkelstein; Israel-based artificial intelligence (AI) firm AnyVision founding chief technology officer Neil Robertson; and Dr Wu Shuang, who is a research scientist at Shanghai-based AI startup Yitu Technology.

The session was moderated by Singapore's DSO National Laboratories chief executive officer Cheong Chee Hoo.

Dr Wu felt that all the "fear-mongering" over the use of data by public and private sectors does little to contribute to the debate in a "constructive" fashion. He reiterated that there is "always a trade-off" when it comes to ensuring efficiency, security and convenience, versus protecting an individual's privacy or liberty.

"It's not one against the other, but… how do we inform the public, how does the government make the regulations, such that when we use the company's product, we know what we are getting and paying (for)," he said.

In recent months, China's use of AI-powered facial recognition technology for government surveillance has ignited a heated debate over invasion of privacy, the potential for misidentification, wrongful conviction, and whether such commercial technology should be used for law enforcement.

The other panellists nevertheless stressed the need for safeguards to be in place.

Ultimately, national security efforts still rest on having public consent and the "justifiable trust of citizens', Prof Finkelstein said.

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