Resolving the privacy issue regarding personal data.

The news …

The U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a hearing today on privacy of data collected by data brokers.  Gartner defines data brokers as the following:

“[A] business that aggregates information from a variety of sources; processes it to enrich, cleanse or analyze it; and licenses it to other organizations. Data brokers can also license another company’s data directly, or process another organization’s data to provide them with enhanced results. Data is typically accessed via an application programming interface (API), and frequently involves subscription type contracts. Data typically is not “sold” (i.e., its ownership transferred), but rather it is licensed for particular or limited uses. (A data broker is also sometimes known as an information brokersyndicated data broker, or information product company.)”

The Committee and the hearing witnesses discussed the lack of knowledge most consumers have regarding the amount of personal data collected on them and how the data is used or disposed of.  Not only is sensitive data in the hands of third-parties not known by the consumer but there is the risk that data collected could be incorrect and create a negative impression of the consumer particularly as it concerns decisions regarding employment, access to colleges, or access to credit.

At least one senator is on to something …

One line of questioning I found insightful came from Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana.  He wanted to know the thoughts of the witnesses on licensing of data by the consumer herself.  What disclosure requirements would both sides have to meet in order to allow the consumer to license her data?

It wasn’t clear whether Senator Kennedy discussed disclosure requirements in anticipation of a transaction model where parties need as much transparency as possible in order to negotiate licensing agreements for the exchange of personal data.  If that is the case, then licensing could help build a platform for a market solution to the privacy issue.

An autonomous market approach would keep government out of negotiating a data exchange between consumer and broker.  The parties could choose to have courts settle any contract disputes or issues arising out of tort where misuse of data resulted in some civil harm. Or, parties could choose arbitration, further minimizing government involvement in settling disputes.

Right now, the political power belongs with Congress …

But we are ahead of ourselves.  We still need to identify where the political power is sitting in this privacy debate.  So far the greatest ability to shape and control the political behavior of stakeholders appears to lie with the government.  Data broker LiveRamp Holdings, Inc., formerly known as Acxiom, acknowledges that the fallout from Cambridge Analytica’s treatment of data it received from Facebook has resulted in increased scrutiny of the “shadow industry.”

Congress may feel further emboldened to implement America’s own version of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation as more members of the electorate become familiar with data broker business models and the perception as to how data broker use of private data could negatively impact consumer lives.

 

 

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Blacks need a new political law game

The political battle between the Executive and the Congress has been intense to say the least over the last twenty-seven months since Donald Trump took office.  With post-Mueller report hearings ramping up next week, the saga only promises to continue way into campaign season.

My friends and family have expressed varying degrees of interest, with a significant number of opinions fueled more by emotion and less by critical thinking.  For example, the constant reference to “collusion”, a term that has no legal meaning, is disconcerting because it provides an example of how people are ignoring the particulars (even when readily available for examination) and rolling with the globs of misinformation thrown onto the plate most times by the mainstream media.

Black congressional leadership wasting political power …

What should also be disturbing is how two of the highest ranking blacks in the Congress, Maxine Waters and Elijah Cummings, are spearheading the charge in the impeachment debate.  Their distaste for the sitting president is evident, but what is less evident is how the use of a potent political law instrument as impeachment is supposed to translate into any increase in political power, wealth, or capital for black people.

If anything, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has expressed caution about pursuing impeachment, appreciating the argument from some inside her party that pursuing impeachment could have a negative impact on the Democrats’ ability to oust Donald Trump from the Oval Office in November 2020.  Mrs. Pelosi’s hesitancy on impeachment should have provided Ms. Waters and Mr. Cummings an opening to show leadership and go against the impeachment grain, not because it would be in line with Speaker Pelosi’s sentiment, but as a signal that the energy expenditure behind impeachment does nothing for their prime constituency: black people.

When you are marginalized, you agitate …

With at least 51 voting members in the U.S. House, blacks in the Congress are in a position to be the pivotal swing vote on a number of issues including impeachment. Numerically, black members of the House, where articles of impeachment would originate, could clog the wheel by holding back approximately 20% of the Democratic vote.  With this leverage, black congressmen could attempt concessions from either the House leadership or from President Trump, though it is less likely that the black caucus would try to negotiate with the President for fear of becoming a pariah in the Democratic Party.

Therein lies a telling dilemma. If the premier block of black congressmen cannot leverage numerical strength without fear of reprisal, what good is their strength?  Another irony is that for a group of congressman that represent a marginalized group, their fear of marginalization within Congress does not put them in a position to do more for their black constituents.

Maybe the answer is to stay outside the box …

On the other hand, maybe blacks, particularly those who embrace their status as marginalized, need an approach to political law that allows them to carve out their own independent niche; one that unapologetically finds the seams or openings in the political economy in order to access capital or create substantive platforms for constructing true communities. Current black leadership is too afraid to do that.

Congress hasn’t determined the artificial intelligence behavior it wants to regulate

Congress’ attempt at AI legislation

The 116th Congress has three bills or resolutions of note sitting in a number of committees that attempt to address the use of artificial intelligence in American society.  H.Res. 153 is intended to support the development of guidelines for the ethical development of artificial intelligence.

Meanwhile,  HR 2202 seeks to establish a coordinated Federal initiative to accelerate artificial intelligence research and development of the economic and national security of the United States, while H.R. 827 is concerned about training and retraining workers facing employment disruption by artificial intelligence.

The bills and resolution are more exploratory versus regulatory in nature.  They don’t expressly get at any behavior that needs to be regulated.  The nascent characteristic of artificial intelligence development along with government’s inability to keep regulation at the same pace as technology development may be in part the reason for the “let’s see what we have here” stance of early regulation.  In other words, Congress may just be getting a feel for what AI is while taking care not to interfere with the innovation needed to further develop the technology.

On the other hand, these bills could help Congress get ahead of the issue of labor disruption. Workers read about AI’s capacity to replace jobs that are more pedestrian or mundane; jobs currently occupied by lower income workers.  The prediction about labor disruption won’t leave certain higher-waged jobs untouched either as AI platforms, data mining, and machine learning threaten professions such as accounting or law.  By determining the data needed to thoroughly analyze the impact and growth of artificial intelligence; identifying the industries that will benefit most from or be harmed the most by AI; and comparing today’s existing job skills with the job skills that will be needed in order to work alongside AI, Congress contribute to alleviating labor force disruption.

The Human-Machine Relationship

Unlike a number of dire predictions of the emergence of “SkyNet” and terminator-like machines subjecting humans to slavery or worse, most analysts and commentators see AI as a tool that augments human capabilities, making humans better or more productive.  The emphasis will be on collaborative intelligence, with human and machine working together.  And how well that relationship works depends on how well humans program the machine.

Another consideration is artificial intelligence’s ability to self improve.  The goal of AI development is to build an artificial intelligent agent that can build another AI agent, preferably with even greater capabilities.  The vision is to move from AI’s narrow, single-task capabilities to a more general AI, a concept that sees AI exhibiting greater abilities across multiple tasks, much like humans.

Possible targets of legislation or regulation

If legislation or regulation is to target the machine-human relationship, elected officials and regulatory heads will have to consider their policy initiatives impact on:

  • the ability of humans to train machines;
  • the ability of humans to explain AI outcomes;
  • the ability of machines to amplify human cognitive skills;
  • the ability of machines to embody the the human skills necessary that lead to the extension of human physical capabilities;
  • the ability of artificial intelligence to self-improve;
  • the difference between “safe” AI (the ability to maintain consistency in AI outcomes) versus “ethical” AI (ensuring that AI platforms are not a threat to human life.

Conclusion

Just like the application of artificial intelligence, Congress’ foray into regulation of AI is nascent.  This is the time for AI’s stakeholders to either begin or maintain efforts to influence all levels of government on AI’s use in the commercial sector.