Home > Uncategorized > At CPDP, thinking about privacy

At CPDP, thinking about privacy

January 28, 2016

Brussels is a pretty nice place for a hellhole (according to Trump). I got here early yesterday and walked around; obviously I bought a bunch (technically an asston) of chocolate and took pictures of impudent statues.


I know this sounds entirely unhistorical and arrogant, but I can’t help thinking that Brussels was created out of some indulgent American fantasy of Europe that confused Paris and Amsterdam and added a bunch of chocolate stores, beer, and waffles. Oh, and gold leaf.


It’s a great city; possibly it’s replaced Amsterdam as the place I’d like to live if I moved away from New York (which will never happen). It’s pedestrian dominated, there are plenty of sex shops, and the recycling bins are covered with graffiti. In other words, it’s got the right values and it’s not overly sanitized. Trump’s got it wrong once again.

I’m here for an annual conference called CPDP, which stands for Computers, Privacy, and Data Protection. This morning I attended a super interesting panel on privacy and the world’s poor. In that panel I learned about an algorithm being used to sort unemployed people in Poland. As is typical of many of the algorithms I’m interested, it’s both entirely opaque and high impact; the open information laws also don’t apply for inscrutable reasons.

Later today I’ll be on a panel in which we’ll discuss software tools that investigate privacy and data protection in the real world. Besides me, the people on the panel are working within the context of European privacy and protection laws, which are both very different and much more protective than we have in the states (although the UK is an exception). I will surely learn a lot, both about how people think about data and privacy over here and what the obstacles are to enforcing the strong laws.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. January 28, 2016 at 4:45 am

    Welcome to Belgium Cathy! Enjoy your stay in our little hellhole, and feel free to come to Antwerp for a guided tour if you have time to spare :).


  2. January 28, 2016 at 5:56 am

    “As is typical of many of the algorithms I’m interested, it’s both entirely opaque and high impact;”
    And if they are doing as described here they probably don’t want anyone to know:



  3. January 28, 2016 at 7:39 am

    I (and no doubt the NSA) very much look forward to your forthcoming summaries/thoughts/conclusions.


  4. Allen K.
    January 28, 2016 at 9:30 am

    Cathy, I’m extremely confident that you would enjoy the movie “In Bruges”, which features Colin Farrell repeatedly asserting that Bruges is a shithole while showing us heartstoppingly gorgeous pictures of canals at sunset. (Though I guess you may find my taste suspect, as I did watch _Mother_ to the end after you walked out.)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. January 28, 2016 at 9:42 am

    Have a great time. This behavior data selling for profit in the US is out of hand. Even Bloomberg, aside from thinking he wants to be President as well is diving in with their purchase of a behavioral analytics company called Netbox Blue, which they will use themselves and market & sell such services to their clients. We all know there’s some pressure over there for some upcoming lost revenue as B of A and JPM are removing thousands of Bloomberg boxes soon that rent for $21k a year. So when revenue streams shrink or disappear, same old thing, mine and harvest behavioral data of ours for sale.

    I wrote yesterday as well in the healthcare area about Silicon Valley and how they market their algorithms. They blur the news about them with calling some of them a diagnosis device or algorithms that are really in essence just risk assessors. We have all these “secret” scores about us out there floating around and being sold. Some are not secret as well but they are marketed way beyond their capabilities with all the rush to push cognitive technologies.

    So soon, are we all going to carry around yet one more risk of Alzheimers? That is the latest and how they are raising millions for this technology, which has no ties to genomic data at all. That’s where it should be in this area I believe See if they are scored in Europe for risk like we are in the US so companies can profit and sell the risk assessment scores. Pam at the World Privacy center when she did their report a couple years ago with the report named “The Secret Scoring of America”. We have no control or say in who gets to buy our “scored” data and the scoring process is how they get around HIPAA in the fact that they are not seling actual medical data but rather just a number about you, a score. Here’s the latest risk assessment for profit wrapped up in what they have marketed as an Alzheimers risk assessment algorithm.


    I still stand on my idea and campaign from 3 years ago, we need to license and index those who sell our data and created scores so we know who does them and what data they sell. When there are errors, if you don’t know where to go in the case of your data being repackaged, you’re stuck to find the source and get flawed corrected. Everybody wants to score you for money today and I still think Citibank is using their install of IBMWatson to analyze behavior to see who won’t notice a few extra fees assigned to them, as no consumer were complaining when they were fined.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. January 28, 2016 at 10:07 am

    Ooh, panel sounds excellent! I’ve toyed around with models to identify those at-risk for timely provision of assistance, but I guess in real life, these would probably be more widely used for cost containment/punitive “prevention”, with automation bias ignoring criticism. :-/
    Good reminder that we have to design in at every layer values like transparency, data subject privacy, preservation of autonomy, and redress/appeal to avoid unfair processes and outcomes.


  7. sglover
    February 1, 2016 at 11:32 pm

    I’d always pictured Brussels as an endless series of huge white imperial buildings, taking up city blocks. No traffic possible, because of the endless EU/NATO/whatever motorcades. So I never thought it was worth visiting, and I haven’t. It’s nice to get a different view. Still, Antwerp has the port — hard to beat that.


  8. Busy Bee
    February 2, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    Surely, waffles are a distant fourth to chocolate, beer and fries! How could you skip the fries? You états-uniens (not all Americans are from the U.S.A.) might call them French fries, but in France people associate potato fries with Belgium.


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