Brad Smith, President of Microsoft, announced at a recent London event that the world has reached a pivotal point, with people insisting on greater control than ever over their data and the technology they use.
Smith highlighted international scandals involving governments and social media in the last 10 years as a spur for the public becoming more protective of personal data and how it may be used.
Alongside Senior Director of External Relations and Communications at Microsoft, Carol Anne Browne, the Microsoft President is co-author of a new book entitled ‘Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age’. It was for this reason he was visiting the UK.
The book examines how continuing developments in the field of technology will have a powerful and positive effect on the lives of people throughout the world. However, it states there will also be downsides that must be addressed. Both Browne and Smith strongly believe that Microsoft must increase its efforts when it comes to taking responsibility for all products produced, and should urge other firms to follow its example. The book also looks closely at the effects of innovation in the technology sector impacting privacy security and democracy.
A truly democratic approach to data
Smith told his gathered audience that public opinion of technology and its sector are no longer held in the same high regard and issues must be addressed. He noted that people are no longer looking at governments and how they store or collect data, but at the companies providing technology and how they target people by using their personal data.
Smith suggests that an element of a solution is to “truly democratise data”. He explained that this first and foremost means recognising it belongs not to companies, but individuals. The long-term aim, he said, must be to reach a situation whereby data can be shared, but people maintain ownership of it, and their privacy remains intact.
The volatile issue of facial recognition
Smith also addressed the privacy issue by shining a spotlight on the subject of facial recognition technology. In his 25-year tenure at Microsoft, Smith commented that he had never seen a policy issue incite such an explosive reaction so quickly.v
The technology, which allows officials to check faces caught on CCTV in real time against a list of watched individuals, has proved highly controversial, particularly with privacy campaigners and those concerned that it may be used to track people for commercial reasons.
A blogger on the subject, Smith recognises the risks of the technology and believes improvements need to be made, and that the democratic freedom of individuals who could potentially be recognised and followed in each shop needs to be resolved.
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