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Artificial intelligence – more specifically, the machine learning (ML) subset of AI - has a number of privacy problems.
Not only does ML require vast amounts of data for the training process, but the derived system is also provided with access to even greater volumes of data as part of the inference processing while in operation. These AI systems need to access and “consume” huge amounts of data in order to exist and, in many use cases, the data involved is private: faces, medical records, financial data, location information, biometrics, personal records, and communications.
Preserving privacy and security in these systems is a great challenge. The problem grows in sensitivity as the public becomes more aware of the consequences of their privacy being violated and misused. Regulations are continually evolving to restrict organizations and penalize offenders who fail to respect users’ rights. British Airways was, for example, recently fined $228 million by the European Union for privacy violations.
There is currently a fine line that AI developers must walk to create useful systems to benefit society and yet avoid violating privacy rights.
For example, AI systems are an excellent candidate to help law enforcement rescue abducted and exploited children by identifying them in social media posts. Such a system would be relentless in scouring all posts and matching images to missing persons, even taking into account the likely changes of years passing by, something impossible for humans to accomplish accurately or at scale. However, such a system would need to do facial recognition analysis on every picture posted in a social network. That could identify and ultimately contribute to tracking everyone, even bystanders in the background of images. Sounds creepy and you may likely object. This is where privacy regulations and ethics must define what is allowable. Bringing home kidnapped kids or those who are forced into sex trafficking is very worthwhile but still requires adherence to privacy fundamentals, so greater harms aren’t inevitably created.
To accomplish such a noble feat, a system would need to be trained to recognize the faces of children. For accuracy, it would require a training database with millions of children’s faces. To follow the laws in some jurisdictions, the parents of each child in the training data set would need to approve the use of their child’s image as part of the learning process. No such approved database currently exists and it would be a tremendous undertaking to build one. It would probably take many decades to coordinate such an effort, leaving the promise of an efficient AI solution for finding kidnapped or exploited children just a hopeful concept for the foreseeable future.
Such is the dilemma of AI and privacy. This type of conflict arises when AI systems are in training and also when they are put to work to process real data.
Take that same facial recognition system and connect it to both a federal citizen registry and millions of surveillance cameras. Now, the government could identify and track people wherever they go, regardless if they have committed a crime, which is very Orwellian.
But innovation is coming to help - federated learning, differential privacy, and homomorphic encryption are technologies that can assist in navigating such challenges. However, they are just tools and not complete solutions. They can help in specific usages but always come with drawbacks and limitations, many of which can be significant.
For now, there is no perfect solution on the horizon. It currently takes the expertise of and committed partnerships between privacy, legal, AI developers, and ethics professionals to evaluate individual use-cases to determine the best course of action. Even then, most of the focus is placed only on current concerns and not on applying a more difficult strategic viewpoint of what challenges will emerge in the future. The only thing that is clear is that we need to achieve the right level of privacy so we can benefit from the tremendous advantages that AI potentially holds for mankind. How that is achieved in an effective, efficient, timely, and consistent manner is beyond what anyone has figured out to date.
Originally published on HelpNetSecurity https://www.helpnetsecurity.com/2020/01/23/ai-privacy-problems