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Privacy is front and center at CES as execs from Apple, Facebook, others debate key tech issues

Privacy experts speak at CES 2020. From left: Moderator Rajeev Chand, Partner and Head of Research at Wing Venture Capital; Erin Egan, VP Public Policy and Chief Privacy Officer for Policy at Facebook; Jane Horvath, Senior Director, Global Privacy at Apple; Susan Shook, Global Privacy Officer at The Procter & Gamble Company; and Rebecca Slaughter, FTC Commissioner. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

The annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is viewed by many as the pulse of the technology industry. The issues explored by speaker sessions, and the newest gadgets unveiled on the showroom floor, provide insights into the state of technology and where it’s headed.

As public awareness of the vast data economy grows, privacy and surveillance are key issues at CES this year. There are more than a dozen privacy-themed sessions this week.

Tuesday’s Chief Privacy Officer Roundtable was one of the most buzzed-about sessions — in part because of the participation of longtime CES no-show Apple.

Apple’s senior director of global privacy, Jane Horvath sat on the panel alongside Facebook’s chief privacy officer for policy Erin Egan; Proctor & Gamble’s global privacy officer, Susan Shook; and Rebecca Slaughter, commissioner on the Federal Trade Commission.

The four privacy experts had a lively debate on one of the most discussed and confounding challenges for the technology industry. Read highlights from the panel below and check out all of our CES coverage here.

Facebook on the defensive

Egan fielded some of the most difficult questions because of the data privacy issues that have dogged Facebook since the 2016 Cambridge Analytica scandal. The company has implemented changes since that breach, in which the data company was able to use information on Facebook users to push political agendas without their knowledge. Facebook has also established additional privacy controls to comply with new regulations, like the California Consumer Privacy Act that took effect this month.

But the company is still in the hot seat. Facebook received the toughest privacy penalty the FTC has ever levied last year, though many, including Slaughter, said it didn’t go far enough. The company is now under investigation by the FTC for potential antitrust violations.

When asked about Facebook’s data collection practices, Egan went on the defensive.

“I take real issue with the idea with what we do at Facebook, the advertising that we serve, is somehow surveying people,” she said. “We work so hard to be transparent. Surveillance connotes surreptitious activity that people don’t know about. We work hard to be transparent.”

Egan didn’t back down later when pressed on whether Facebook collects too much personal data on its users.

“We are not,” she said. “We adhere to the concept of data minimization. We collect what we need to serve people. We give people control and choice over that data, and we’re clear with people about it, and we work to de-identify.”

Zeroing in on location data

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