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  • Transcriber: Leslie Gauthier Reviewer: Joanna Pietrulewicz

  • Every day, every week,

  • we agree to terms and conditions.

  • And when we do this,

  • we provide companies with the lawful right

  • to do whatever they want with our data

  • and with the data of our children.

  • Which makes us wonder:

  • how much data are we giving away of children,

  • and what are its implications?

  • I'm an anthropologist,

  • and I'm also the mother of two little girls.

  • And I started to become interested in this question in 2015

  • when I suddenly realized that there were vast --

  • almost unimaginable amounts of data traces

  • that are being produced and collected about children.

  • So I launched a research project,

  • which is called Child Data Citizen,

  • and I aimed at filling in the blank.

  • Now you may think that I'm here to blame you

  • for posting photos of your children on social media,

  • but that's not really the point.

  • The problem is way bigger than so-called "sharenting."

  • This is about systems, not individuals.

  • You and your habits are not to blame.

  • For the very first time in history,

  • we are tracking the individual data of children

  • from long before they're born --

  • sometimes from the moment of conception,

  • and then throughout their lives.

  • You see, when parents decide to conceive,

  • they go online to look for "ways to get pregnant,"

  • or they download ovulation-tracking apps.

  • When they do get pregnant,

  • they post ultrasounds of their babies on social media,

  • they download pregnancy apps

  • or they consult Dr. Google for all sorts of things,

  • like, you know --

  • for "miscarriage risk when flying"

  • or "abdominal cramps in early pregnancy."

  • I know because I've done it --

  • and many times.

  • And then, when the baby is born, they track every nap,

  • every feed,

  • every life event on different technologies.

  • And all of these technologies

  • transform the baby's most intimate behavioral and health data into profit

  • by sharing it with others.

  • So to give you an idea of how this works,

  • in 2019, the British Medical Journal published research that showed

  • that out of 24 mobile health apps,

  • 19 shared information with third parties.

  • And these third parties shared information with 216 other organizations.

  • Of these 216 other fourth parties,

  • only three belonged to the health sector.

  • The other companies that had access to that data were big tech companies

  • like Google, Facebook or Oracle,

  • they were digital advertising companies

  • and there was also a consumer credit reporting agency.

  • So you get it right:

  • ad companies and credit agencies may already have data points on little babies.

  • But mobile apps, web searches and social media

  • are really just the tip of the iceberg,

  • because children are being tracked by multiple technologies

  • in their everyday lives.

  • They're tracked by home technologies and virtual assistants in their homes.

  • They're tracked by educational platforms

  • and educational technologies in their schools.

  • They're tracked by online records

  • and online portals at their doctor's office.

  • They're tracked by their internet-connected toys,

  • their online games

  • and many, many, many, many other technologies.

  • So during my research,

  • a lot of parents came up to me and they were like, "So what?

  • Why does it matter if my children are being tracked?

  • We've got nothing to hide."

  • Well, it matters.

  • It matters because today individuals are not only being tracked,

  • they're also being profiled on the basis of their data traces.

  • Artificial intelligence and predictive analytics are being used

  • to harness as much data as possible of an individual life

  • from different sources:

  • family history, purchasing habits, social media comments.

  • And then they bring this data together

  • to make data-driven decisions about the individual.

  • And these technologies are used everywhere.

  • Banks use them to decide loans.

  • Insurance uses them to decide premiums.

  • Recruiters and employers use them

  • to decide whether one is a good fit for a job or not.

  • Also the police and courts use them

  • to determine whether one is a potential criminal

  • or is likely to recommit a crime.

  • We have no knowledge or control

  • over the ways in which those who buy, sell and process our data

  • are profiling us and our children.

  • But these profiles can come to impact our rights in significant ways.

  • To give you an example,

  • in 2018 the "New York Times" published the news

  • that the data that had been gathered

  • through online college-planning services --

  • that are actually completed by millions of high school kids across the US

  • who are looking for a college program or a scholarship --

  • had been sold to educational data brokers.

  • Now, researchers at Fordham who studied educational data brokers

  • revealed that these companies profiled kids as young as two

  • on the basis of different categories:

  • ethnicity, religion, affluence,

  • social awkwardness

  • and many other random categories.

  • And then they sell these profiles together with the name of the kid,

  • their home address and the contact details

  • to different companies,

  • including trade and career institutions,

  • student loans

  • and student credit card companies.

  • To push the boundaries,

  • the researchers at Fordham asked an educational data broker

  • to provide them with a list of 14-to-15-year-old girls

  • who were interested in family planning services.

  • The data broker agreed to provide them the list.

  • So imagine how intimate and how intrusive that is for our kids.

  • But educational data brokers are really just an example.

  • The truth is that our children are being profiled in ways that we cannot control

  • but that can significantly impact their chances in life.

  • So we need to ask ourselves:

  • can we trust these technologies when it comes to profiling our children?

  • Can we?

  • My answer is no.

  • As an anthropologist,

  • I believe that artificial intelligence and predictive analytics can be great

  • to predict the course of a disease

  • or to fight climate change.

  • But we need to abandon the belief

  • that these technologies can objectively profile humans

  • and that we can rely on them to make data-driven decisions

  • about individual lives.

  • Because they can't profile humans.

  • Data traces are not the mirror of who we are.

  • Humans think one thing and say the opposite,

  • feel one way and act differently.

  • Algorithmic predictions or our digital practices

  • cannot account for the unpredictability and complexity of human experience.

  • But on top of that,

  • these technologies are always --

  • always --

  • in one way or another, biased.

  • You see, algorithms are by definition sets of rules or steps

  • that have been designed to achieve a specific result, OK?

  • But these sets of rules or steps cannot be objective,

  • because they've been designed by human beings

  • within a specific cultural context

  • and are shaped by specific cultural values.

  • So when machines learn,

  • they learn from biased algorithms,

  • and they often learn from biased databases as well.

  • At the moment, we're seeing the first examples of algorithmic bias.

  • And some of these examples are frankly terrifying.

  • This year, the AI Now Institute in New York published a report

  • that revealed that the AI technologies

  • that are being used for predictive policing

  • have been trained on "dirty" data.

  • This is basically data that had been gathered

  • during historical periods of known racial bias

  • and nontransparent police practices.

  • Because these technologies are being trained with dirty data,

  • they're not objective,

  • and their outcomes are only amplifying and perpetrating

  • police bias and error.

  • So I think we are faced with a fundamental problem

  • in our society.

  • We are starting to trust technologies when it comes to profiling human beings.

  • We know that in profiling humans,

  • these technologies are always going to be biased

  • and are never really going to be accurate.

  • So what we need now is actually political solution.

  • We need governments to recognize that our data rights are our human rights.

  • (Applause and cheers)

  • Until this happens, we cannot hope for a more just future.

  • I worry that my daughters are going to be exposed

  • to all sorts of algorithmic discrimination and error.

  • You see the difference between me and my daughters

  • is that there's no public record out there of my childhood.

  • There's certainly no database of all the stupid things that I've done

  • and thought when I was a teenager.

  • (Laughter)

  • But for my daughters this may be different.

  • The data that is being collected from them today

  • may be used to judge them in the future

  • and can come to prevent their hopes and dreams.

  • I think that's it's time.

  • It's time that we all step up.

  • It's time that we start working together

  • as individuals,

  • as organizations and as institutions,

  • and that we demand greater data justice for us

  • and for our children

  • before it's too late.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

Transcriber: Leslie Gauthier Reviewer: Joanna Pietrulewicz

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