Will the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica Scandal Prompt Computer Science to Enter Its Own Age of Enlightenment?

By James Ballot, Senior Advisor, Strategic Messaging, Insurance Information Institute

 

Many of us are still trying to make sense of how our data were affected by a massive data-scraping operation by the research firm of Cambridge Analytica that allegedly misused personal information of 50 million Facebook users. One expert with  a “big picture” view of this scandal is  Yonatan Zunger, a former engineer/privacy expert at Google, who sees the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica affair as further evidence that computer science needs to have its “A-Bomb” moment.

What Zunger means by this is that the fields comprising computer science have to “come to terms with the responsibility that comes with building things which so profoundly affect people’s lives.” And, relatedly, when (or if) there is an “enlightenment” movement, will it empower programmers, data engineers, and others in the field to fight the “weaponization of their work,” or will hackers and other cybercrooks simply redouble efforts and build better mice to defeat better mousetraps?

At the heart of this moment of reckoning are topics of keen interest to insurers. Concerns about  big data analytics in insurance are being raised on several fronts. The Geneva Association recently published a report highlighting the concerns regarding privacy, discrimination and competition that big data analytics present to the insurance industry. And this recent article by R.J. Lehmann warns that “The more complex predictive modeling grows and the more attenuated from the sorts of relatively straightforward risk factors that both consumers and regulators can easily understand, the greater the odds of a backlash.”

 

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