The UN Data Forum starts tomorrow. LIRNEasia’s Sriganesh Lokanathan will speak at the session organized by UN Global Pulse. Agenda.
I spent two challenging days at the first face-to-face meeting of the Privacy Advisory Group of UN Global Pulse in Den Haag. BIt was challenging because it was scheduled adjacent to a privacy commissioners’ conference and because the location was in Europe where privacy protection has been elevated to quasi-religious status. We as researchers are trying to solve problems that affect millions of people in developing countries such as traffic, unresponsive and poorly planned cities, the spread of diseases and so on. To us privacy and other harms matter, but in the foreground of our thinking we always place the social problems we are trying to solve. We attack the privacy problems because they get in the way of the larger purpose.
I will be participating in this Internet Governance Forum session in Joao Pessoa, Brazil, later this year. The session is organized by UN Global Pulse: In recent years, the potential of big data derived from the Internet and other digital devices to transform targeted advertising, recommender systems, location based services, logistics and other activities in the private sector has come to fruition. Increasingly, parallel applications in development work have emerged, proving the utility of big data for monitoring and measuring social phenomenon including disease outbreaks, food security, or migration. However, the opportunities presented by big data simultaneously raise serious concerns about privacy, especially when it comes to use of personal data. To realize the benefits of “Big Data for Development” it is important to find solutions for how to protect fundamental rights and values, including the right to privacy as recognized by the UDHR and ICCPR.
Our own work with big data focuses on cities. This guest editorial in the UN Global Pulse blog provides as excellent rationale for the focus on cities. In addition, it raises some areas for caution. Placing algorithms at the forefront (or even in the front-row seat) of decision-making may have potentially severe drawbacks. It’s indeed us who program algorithms, and we are exposed to a variety mistakes while programming.
The specialized unit of the UN dealing with big data for development, UN Global Pulse, has constituted a data privacy advisory group. LIRNEasia’s chair and advisor to the big data for development team, Rohan Samarajiva, is a member. Among the other members are MIT’s Sandy Pentland and Umar Saif, Chair of the Punjab IT Board and Secretary IT of the Government of Punjab.