SXSW panel heats up over big data privacy concerns

Google was a no-show at a panel that promised to let privacy advocates and Google debate consumer data aggregation

A Sunday afternoon panel designed to address head-on privacy concerns stemming from so-called "big data" collection sparked passions even though both Facebook and Google, whose privacy practices draw most consternation from critics, declined to participate, leaving no one to take the side of industry.

Moderator Molly Wood, the executive director of CBS Interactive, said Facebook didn't feel it had any staff at SXSW who could speak on the issue. Google's privacy counsel Will DeVries was scheduled to participate but bowed out, citing ongoing litigation with the privacy advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center, whose representative Lillie Coney was also on the panel.

Coney said that EPIC was not in litigation with Google, nor does it ever sue corporations. EPIC did recently sue the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, pushing it to take action to block implementation of the company's controversial consolidated privacy policy that took effect March 1. EPIC lost that suit, although it could appeal to the Supreme Court.

Coney called Google's apparent understanding of the action as legal action against the company as "a very strange way to take the regulatory process and the mechanisms that are available to civil society, or even individuals".

Google did not respond to requests for comment.

Even without Google and Facebook in attendance, the panel was hard-fought as Coney and Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union, battled Berin Szoka, president of the libertarian-leaning nonprofit TechFreedom, over whether the collection and increasingly sophisticated analysis of large amounts of user data for use in corporate marketing constitutes a real harm to consumers and whether government regulators should step in.

Szoka cited an "assumption in the privacy debate that it's unusual that the doing of things precedes the figuring out what we should do about it, but that's how the Internet works". His approach is "sometimes derided as a patchwork approach", he said, "But to me that's a good approach. Government should get involved when there's actual harm."

Privacy advocates Coney and Stanley pointed to other industries, like the auto industry, to make the case that government should regulate practices that pose a clear risk. Coney said that if and when demonstrable harms to consumers come from big data, they, too, will be outsized, affecting thousands of people.

Stanley pointed to Gmail as an example. Calling it "the first step toward the application of artificial intelligence monitoring us," he said, "It's not that smart yet, so it's not that scary. But as it gets smarter it will get scarier, when you get to artificial intelligence levels that approach humans and they're still reading your mail."

The audience appeared to side with privacy advocates. One questioner who identified himself as building social networking applications for the Apple platform said he feared harming his own customers. "If we can't as an industry even defend passwords, how can we protect privacy?" he asked.

Cameron Scott covers search, web services and privacy for The IDG News Service. Follow Cameron on Twitter at CScott_IDG.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Cameron Scott

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?