About the Episode
Meet Punit Bhatia, an industry expert on Privacy. Listen in on the conversation around Facebook, Google and many other platform’s on how they gather their consumer’s privacy data. Does your social media account know you better than yourself?
About the Guest
My name is Punit Bhatia from Brussels, Belgium. I am an active speaker and guest lecturer at Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management. I’d like to consider myself as a leading privacy expert as I have worked with businesses in over 30 countries through online as well as in-person training and consulting. I do direct mentoring with CEO’s and help them identify, manage privacy risks and implement strategies to data privacy. I run a business related to “Data Privacy/GDPR”. Primarily the business goals are to provide expert advice, pragmatic actions and convert complex legal topics to common terms. I keep my clients updated on the risks of the latest AIs, Cybersecurity matter and any other data privacy relevant to their line of business. I have also published 3 GDPR books and am currently working on one.
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Today, we’re gonna talk a lot about privacy and a lot about Facebook and shutting down some of their facial recognition things and just some other things about keeping your data safe from a consumer perspective, from a business perspective and even maybe from a service provider perspective, like MSPs. This is a special cyber edition today and before we dive into this, I would like to ask you to share this with at least three people because that’s the only way that we grow and the only way that we continue to impact more people. Let’s keep rocking this world All right. My guest today is speaker and lecturer at Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management. He’s coming to us from Brussels today. It’s about six hours ahead, it’s pretty awesome, and he loves helping CEOs identify and manage privacy risks and implement strategies to data privacy, Boonen. How are you my friend?
I’m good, and thanks for having me. I’m excited and I’m looking forward to sharing my views and understanding what challenges people have so that we can help them.
Right on my man. That’s what we’re here to do right is to educate and allow people to make informed decisions.
Absolutely, and I think your show goes a long way in doing that so keep on doing that.
Thank you, brother. I appreciate that, my man. That’s it wouldn’t exist if that was the case, for sure. Today, there’s some stuff we I read this morning around if we could dive into this around Facebook, right and they announced I saw this in the journal they announced that they are going to be shutting down their facial recognition system and I believe this is where they can automatically detect if you’re in a photo, something like that, right, because they’re storing our facial profiles and say, “Hey, we think you were tagged in this or we thank you, we see you here.” Did you see that same news?
I did. Unlike most privacy professionals, I read it with a pinch of salt because I don’t know if that is exactly what they’re doing today as they’re saying in the news because if you look at Facebook, their core business is advertising. They collect a lot of data about us so that they can make those ads relevant to us, and facial recognition, voice recognition or behaviors and everything is part of it. Now if they say that we will not do facial recognition that means they’re going to collect that data some other way because they also got to make their business more profitable and last week we heard about the concept of meta. So what’s in the name of meta Facebook or whatever you call it XYZ. The question is, are you going to collect data and if you’re going to collect data are people going to have traces? Do they have options not to be subject to that data collection? That’s where the core of the issue is? I think these things we are going to call ourselves meta, they are not going to collect facial recognition. Yes, these do matter in the short term. But the bigger question is how are they going to protect the data of 1 billion plus or two to 3 billion people that they have on their platform actively and half the planet is there. How do we feel safe? That’s the bigger question and as an entrepreneur, our concern is also another way that is we want our ads to be more relevant. So there’s the chicken and the egg as a person. We don’t want the data to be collected as an entrepreneur, we want more targeting more specific ads. So there’s no easy answer.
Yeah, no kidding, and I know they have like you said around 2 to 3 billion users. It’s somewhere in that range right now and what I was reading the stats were that they have over 1 billion faces stored in their system right now. So you’re talking somewhere around half the people but I mean, that’s a lot of people, man. You know, that’s like three times of the United States population is the amount of faces that they have sitting in their database right now and I’ve seen this too. I mean, cuz I obviously have a big social presence but when you look on Facebook, and they’re saying, “Hey, we think you were tagged in this photo over here,” it’s like, oh, my gosh, you know, it’s first you know, that started years ago, man, you think “Oh, that’s pretty cool.” But now you see some of the privacy implications that go along with this and you start to ask the question, what else are they storing about me, which, in essence, when I’ve done my cybersecurity talks is pretty much everything. There’s almost no limit to what they’ve gathered.
No, not at all. And I think there’s a saying that goes that if you click 10 to 20 likes or comments on Facebook, based on the kind of posts your liking and commenting, they can very well make a profile of you and they will know you better than your spouse or partner. So that’s the level of precision these guys have and it’s scary, because it’s a kind of surveillance going on while we are on the internet, while we are having fun while we are having joy. It’s like in the old days, we are going to a restaurant, we are going to a party and we are having fun and we think nobody’s stressing us and thankfully in those days mostly it was true unless some detective is chasing you, but right now, today’s day, detectives called Facebook or other tech companies are chasing us consistently because we have these devices called phones. And even when we are not using we are being tracked, and that’s the scary part of it. And that’s where the issue is of privacy because a few years ago, it was about choice. Do I want to get my photo clicked? I could always say no, but now can I ask my phone not to track my location? Yes, but there are stories and there are facts that even when you close down your location, your cell phone provider, your technology provider, your phone, still have access to some proprietary data, which gives the very precise location of where you are and what you’re doing and that’s the issue you’re facing,
For sure, man, and you will get into that a little bit too for privacy and tracking systems too. But you’re right, like the detective, that unless you had a detective following you around 20 years ago, that’s the only way people would know things about you but now you’re literally you have that detective in your pocket that you were willingly bringing with you anywhere you want to go. It just didn’t look right here. You know I have mine in my pocket too.
Yeah, and it’s not one, it’s multiple devices we have. We have our laptop, we have our phone, we have our smartwatch and all these things combined. There’s a delusion or huge amount of data, which has collected a huge amount of profiling that is being done and I don’t know if you’ve had the access to the book called privacy surveillance or privacy is power and it talks about how scary it is and how it all started. Initially, the idea was very noble. Let’s help them with their search and then we wanted to make search specific and then there’s a let’s go collect some data and then specific ads and now the specific ads have become the business rather than the search which will denoble it originally. And same thing with Facebook, the idea was to collect people, let them have some fun. While the fun part is still probably there, the surveillance part has increased many times and that is the scary picture of the scary world we are living in and we always blame Facebook, but in Corona times, that’s what is happening. What’s happening because we are seeing Corona passports now, Corona vaccination status and you don’t know when you’re entering a restaurant, you’re showing your corona passport. Are they checking if you have a passport, or are they storing what data you have, and that’s where the risk is increasing.
Sure. I know and even with the latest iOS update on the iPhone, androids have been doing this for a little while but now you can add your vaccination card to your apple wallet. You know that and it’s hey, here’s convenience and everything but at the same time that is a next step towards a vaccination passport, is it not to where you have this device? It’s storing that data on it and now you can even digitally share that data when it’s stored in your wallet. On your phone.
We are intelligent people and we are into the thick of things on privacy data and so on. So we do understand these but think about the people who are intelligent in their other life. That is they don’t have access to technology or they are using technology just to make their life simple. Use it as a phone and they are being tracked without knowledge and they click “yes” because it’s annoying for them. And that’s where the risk is and that’s where most of the population is because everybody is not an entrepreneur. Everybody is not in data. Everybody is not in cyber, everybody’s not in privacy. We are less than 1% of people in that category. It’s the 99% who are more vulnerable.
For sure, my man and I’d love to see how this affects you know, GDPR and HIPAA and all that and get your thoughts on that a little bit too. Let’s, let’s keep going on the Facebook conversation just a little bit more because you talked about meta right and they just announced that they changed their name to that and it’s interesting because you know, there was this earlier war so to speak between Facebook and Apple earlier this year when iOS 14 You know, dot whatever came out and then iOS 15. And they started actually showing you these apps that they’re what they’re tracking you with, you know, and you had the opportunity to opt out even like on your device right here. Now of course that only goes so far as you’ve been saying, you know, it’ll help that but then that did make Facebook ads specifically I know because I run Facebook ads myself I run social ads for things that I’m doing it did make targeting more difficult as an entrepreneur you know, because now those device codes are not captured like they used to be to where you can target those specific devices and that’s what I know.
A lot of people didn’t realize that yeah, you could turn privacy on on certain parts of Facebook. But each device right here has a unique fingerprint. It’s called the device ID and that still was being tracked prior to these updates with iOS from Apple, and Facebook hated it. I mean, they were. Do you remember that feud earlier this year that they were talking about, you know, between those two, I mean, they were just going at each other I mean pulling apps out of the store and all these other things. Facebook was trying to shun Apple and some other unique ways but how do you feel about that man, you know what’s the balance here between privacy and business and entrepreneurship? How do you strike that perfect, harmonious chord?
I think that two paths, let’s look at it from the individual perspective first, from an indigenous perspective, what Apple is doing is the right thing and I think Facebook and Google and everyone else will follow because people are realizing that privacy is important and they care for it and they want it. Now would we get privacy in context, the way we think that is, in terms of respect for privacy as Apple is doing, or maybe it gets monetized that people are said and shared. Give me $20 a month and I will need this data. Give me $50 a month and I need this data from you, and maybe at least people are rewarded for that. We don’t know which model it will be but it’s important and relevant from an individual’s perspective and we are on a journey. We are on a shift in that context. But if we look at it from an entrepreneurial real context, even I run Facebook ads, and I found that the efficacy or the effectiveness of those ads has gone down in the last month and it’s costing more to run ads. So it feels bad and feels like the world is changing and privacy is a bad thing. If you purely put on your entrepreneurial hat. But if you look at the larger picture. I mean, when we drive on the road, we don’t say I will breach the Highway Code, I will breach the speed. We usually care for the Highway Code. Unless of course you’re in a country in Asia, whether it’s or Italy where the culture is to go higher than the normal speed but most of these will sell.
Or when I’m driving my Aston Martin, that too.
Aston Martin, North Ferrari, and that’s a different matter but most people would say let’s follow the law. Let’s follow the rules, and that’s the same with privacy. We have been used to driving on the road without any limits but now there are limits and now there are rules which we need to follow and we as intrapreneurs are better off following those rules, because that’s going to be economical and better for the society. Yes, it’s challenging. Yes, it’s costly, but let’s look at it 30 years ago, 30 years ago, there was no targeting. You would put an ad in a newspaper and you don’t know how many people reached it except for the number of copies they printed and still the industry worked. Now we have the privilege and advantage of digital ads. We can choose 30 to 50 this and that and that and we can choose a very specific profile. I think that’s good enough and we are in a modern world people will still buy. I mean you didn’t buy Aston Martin because they did a better ad or they showed you on Facebook because you know the brand and the brand has a value for you. So if you are creating as entrepreneurs brands which are creating value for people, people will buy and we don’t need to worry about marketing and privacy and so on. We just need to respect it and that’s how it will be. I mean even Mercedes, even BMW and even Aston Martin would have an app these days and they have a device in the car which tracks you which makes sure it’s called the black box these days. Who knows what you’re doing, how much speed you’re driving, but I’m presuming that they’re not collecting it at a personal level. They are collecting it at device level. It’s possible to associate with the person but the intentions are noble to make cars safer. If that’s happening, that’s a good thing but if they’re tracking you and me are driving that way, and we want to charge more insurance and don’t want to pay insurance because we’re over speed limit that’s a little bit over the line. So there’s no right or wrong answer. It’s being ethical and being doing the right thing in the right way.
Oh, sure, and there have been bills that have approached least in the US and Congress because there’s insurance companies like State Farm and Allstate that allow you to plug in a device like that. So you’re giving up some of your privacy to show how well you drive and I know these vehicles even track, you know, your braking patterns, because your braking patterns can tell how fast you break. You know how hard you slam on those things to where you might be more apt to run into somebody you know, rear end somebody you know, even like what times of the day or late night you’re driving. I know these contracts to try to get to try to reduce your insurance premiums every single year.
So I know that this capability exists exactly as you’re saying but if it goes at a device level, that’s fantastic because then they can improve airbag response times and they can improve braking structures. You know, that’s phenomenal for safety but I think that Facebook, bringing this back full circle crosses into that realm of like what State Farm and Allstate are allowing you to opt into but Facebook has just been doing it without necessarily opting into and gathering all that personal data about you. You know, and as we saw in the Facebook papers, right, that were just released by the whistleblower and look what happened after that they decided to change their name. You think that was a coincidence?
I would think it’s a coincidence because you don’t change your name overnight because they’ve been thinking for the last six months or one year or even since Cambridge Analytica how to change the perception of people how to look better. And I think meta is a that in that direction. They’ll also be changing some privacy settings. So let’s make no mistake about it and if you’re seeing the privacy recruitment market, they’ve been hiring a lot of privacy people. So there are some good intentions, but would they yield good results? We don’t know and that debate will continue because these are big tech companies which are experimenting on the fringe of privacy. So these are the leading companies which are invited for laws like CCPA laws like GDPR, and so on, and now they’re stretching the limits of the law and testing out how far they can go. Because the one thing is for sure, we will have more data collection and we will have more technology. That’s not going away and we will have more entrepreneurship and we will have more challenges for entrepreneurships in compliance because we will have artificial intelligence regulation in Europe and also in other parts of the world. So life is going to become difficult because technology will evolve and the jurisdiction or the governments would like to legislate and it’s the same thing with the bitcoin or the cryptocurrency they want to legislate because they want control. The technology knows no boundaries, and it goes exponentially or it goes faster, faster, better, better, more data, more data. That’s how it goes because the more data it has, the more it can do with things and it can also serve to make our lives better.
I love that, yeah, and you started talking about legislation in the EU right in Europe. And that seems to be where a lot of this stuff starts. The EU seems to be on the forefront of what I’ve seen as a pattern, you know, like with GDPR for example, right, and we’ll get into that and compare that to what Facebook and Apple have been doing. GDPR obviously started in Europe, and then it moved over to the United States in the form of the CCPA in California, right the the California Consumer Privacy Act, it was almost It was so close man to GDPR you know, the phrasing and everything. It wasn’t an exact copy but it was so close and that’s how things started to trickle over. You know, across the at least this country where I’m at in the United States, but Europe you’re right seems to lead the charge and you talked about something there because Facebook obviously uses AI they use machine learning and they’re going to be getting into even different layers and deeper levels of AI as this continues to go with meta. You know, where do you see that regulation going in Europe with AI?
I look at AI regulation or EU regulation that’s GDPR or even the EU privacy directive that are the regulation that will come up. I think Europe is looking at things in a broader perspective. They’re saying the world is going to be digital. So if we have a 2030 or 2050 EU digital strategy, what are the things we need to have? What are the building blocks we need to have and they also realize, in my view, that they will not be able to control each and everything. So they’re saying let’s go for a principle based approach. That is your ethics, you’re transparent, you’re accountable. That is you take responsibility for your actions, and you’re open about what you’re doing and you’re asking for consent and all those things. So essentially, they’re saying, tell the user what you’re doing, inform them, give them some control options, and do it transparently if you wish to and if the user says no, please don’t do it. That’s broadly the approach and if you look at the AI regulation, that’s also a very similar approach to a principle based approach and they’re not saying let it be bureaucratic.
We will come and watch you and everything, you do the right thing, we trust you to do the right thing but when we ask you to demonstrate to us that you’re done the right thing at that moment and that’s where the challenge lies and the complexity lies in terms of GDPR and as the world evolves more and more into digital I think more and more countries would follow suit because if you see, when you talk about AI, there’s a Chinese AI framework, there’s a US AI framework, the Japanese, the India and everybody has an AI framework and those frameworks are saying this is how you should do it and therefore no good or because people don’t follow it and when you legislate it, when you make it a law, there isn’t a probability that the number of people complying will increase, and more importantly, those who don’t follow the law. The government or authorities have an opportunity to course correct that by issuing fines or conducting audits and so on and that’s what we’re looking at because when Cambridge Analytical happened, okay, a lot of buzz, but it was difficult for the organization or authorities to lean in and to curtail, of course, we still expect fines, but with GDPR it could have gone even more strongly and that’s what the US is doing. I wish everybody would say GDPR is the law for us so that everyone’s life like us intrapreneurs is easier, but that’s not gonna happen. Everyone will do a save as change a few things and make life difficult for us.
Yeah, it sounds like the CCPA.
Yeah, CPRA, everything.
Yeah, right on. I like how you said that, because you brought up Cambridge Analytica, too, you know, and there’s a fantastic documentary I’ve referenced before called The Great Hack on Netflix and it talked about the Cambridge Analytical Scenario, and what I well from a privacy perspective it was horrible what they did, but from an entrepreneurial perspective, the strategy was pretty badass. You know, if you try to remove your emotions from this and not take it personally, and I’m sure as these things continue to go, you know, I’m excited to see entrepreneurs come up with new ways to engage their prospects with all these privacy to where you’re saying like they stay within the speed limits, you know, and I’m excited man to see the innovation that’s going to come up in marketing and digital marketing over some of these things and what do you see as some of the next steps for entrepreneurs because now we have this targeting, that has been more restricted because of the privacy rules that have been put in place by a lot of digital agencies and social media? Where do you see some of the ways that entrepreneurs can overcome some of this to actually innovate in their marketing strategies?
I think more and more we will see ethical innovation, because earlier it was I will innovate and we shall see later if it’s privacy compliant or not, or AI compliant or not. And now as we go along, we will see more attention to details, more attention from investors, more attention from venture capitalists, as well as authorities saying, “Are you doing the right thing? How will it impact society?” Then we will see more innovation which is helpful for society, helpful for people and done in the right way. And yes, it will have a cost for the intrapreneurs but it’ll also have a bigger payoff. Like if you see Apple is going big on its advertisement saying we are going to remove all the tracking and others are feeling that pinch. And now there you will see in coming years, more and more phones saying we protect your privacy, now how far they would and how much they would we don’t know but it’ll certainly be more than where it was. So the bar rising may not be as fast as we want but the thing or the shift is happening.
For sure. It’s an interesting conundrum, too, because we’ve been talking a lot about Apple, you know, and some of the moves that they’ve been making. Of course, Android has been doing that a little while now. I think when you talk about ethical innovation, you know, I’m a big fan of ethics. I wrote a book on Situational Ethics, and you take a look at Android, Android is freaking made by Google. It’s a Google operating system and Google is also an ad company, right? They collect almost as much data if not more, which is what Facebook has, in previous years for their ad platform. And now they have a mobile operating system and they have for you know, over a decade now, that functions on that platform, you know, what do you see the ethical conundrums are you know, because Samsung could come out and say, Hey, we’re gonna protect your privacy, you know, on a on a Galaxy device, but still, it’s Google man. It’s a Google device. It’s an interesting conundrum that they have with that.
I think we will see a shift. If you recall, about 20 years ago in 2008. The financial collapse happened or financial crisis happened. There were a lot of companies or a lot of banks who were asked to split their insurance, business investment business and the normal retail business. So a lot of banks were asked to split, especially the insurance and the banking part because they were getting too powerful having the insurance data, having the banking data and providing so many services and taking so much risk. And that’s the same thing that’s happening with Facebook and Google and everybody, because they do a lot of things. They do the ads, they do Gmail, they do the search, then they do Android, and all this data is being collected into one entity, and that’s making them powerful. So I won’t be surprised if in 510 years, they are told that you are becoming a monopoly and you need to slice or split your businesses and run them separately and if you see carefully what Facebook and Google are doing.
Google has now alphabet and they are already structuring those companies because they know there comes a 1 billion or 2 billion fine within a direction that you have to do it in three years and the same thing Facebook is doing they acquired so many products and now they’re saying they are aggregating them as meta. And are they going to change the name from facebook.com to meta.com? Probably not. but that’s another shift they are doing and if that continues, very soon, there’ll be a regulator asking them to split the other businesses and if that happens, that’ll lead to more segregation of data. Otherwise, these tech giants will keep on becoming more and more powerful, which essentially means the intrapreneurs would have less and less opportunities and when the split happens, more entrepreneurs have the opportunity for more innovation.
For sure. You’re starting to see that some now in the states too, because there’s been congressional representatives that have thrown out trying to force Facebook to spin off Instagram into a separate private company, you know, and you see this it’s a little different because the this is still even though it’s been around for right 15 years or something like that. Now, Facebook, it’s almost still like a baby and there hasn’t been much I mean, even in the United States with Section 230 I mean, that law was made back in the 90s man in the 90s and there still hasn’t been any innovation in any kind of congressional rulings around this to figure out what they can and cannot do. It’s just been kind of a hodgepodge patchwork sort of system up until this point, and things continue to move faster, unfortunately, with technology than they do with regulatory bodies, and I’m not one that’s specifically for regulation, but there’s got to be a balance between protecting people and their privacy and still allowing the entrepreneurial space to exist.
It’s intriguing man, and I hear what you’re saying too, as far as you might see some of these things like meta has Facebook, they have Instagram, you know, they have all these different other things they acquired but what if Google this is a big what if what if Google spun off its ads platform? What if they spun off its search engine? What if they spun off Android as an operating system? And now it gets to be almost like smaller subsets of big tech, you know, it’d be interesting to see and you’re right dude, if that happens, that’s another blue ocean for entrepreneurs. Yes. I’m excited. I appreciate your insights on that. That’s incredible.
Thank you. I think that will happen with time.
Yeah, for sure. I’m pretty sure that it has to, you know, because it’s almost impossible for these large companies to keep up and actually keep the trust of the public at the same time when they hold so much power in one thing, but at the same time, and I’ve talked about this, no matter what big tech tries to do, it’s still the responsibility of the consumer to do what’s right for you.
Exactly. And I think if you look at the last 500 years or 1000 years of history, that’s what always happens. There’s a big player that continues to acquire bigger, I mean, that happened to the UK or other powers, which were like a few big powers which are ruling the world and then they lose control and then it becomes minimalistic, because they have to split and then people become aware. and that’s what happened to companies. It happened in the financial crisis to banks, then now it will happen to tech companies, because it’s evolution and if you see Microsoft, they were Windows providers. With the office. That’s all that remained. Then they acquired LinkedIn. And now they’re offering everything as a subscription. Now they have their own laptops or devices, and they are growing as well. But how far can you grow because when you grow even when by laws of economics, you become a monopoly and when you become a monopoly, the state is going to come in and ask you to split and then what happens? You have multiple companies. So it is the law of nature, or the law of the universe which says Big Bang, you become bigger and bigger and bigger and then you squeeze in and you have put on size.
I love it, my man your insight is absolutely amazing and before we go here, I want to tell everyone about your podcasts, okay? Fit for privacy, the number four fit the number for privacy, which is that on all platforms?
Yes, it’s on all platforms, and it’s meant for intrapreneurs privacy professionals or anybody who cares for privacy because a lot of people who have misconceptions or who don’t know what is privacy, and as an entrepreneur, when we are starting we don’t know what to do, and what’s the right thing. And that’s why I created this podcast, wherein we talk with influencers or experts and talk about their experiences in privacy and also sometimes entrepreneurs, they share how they’re complying with privacy and what challenges they face and it’s available exactly on all platforms just like your podcast.
Awesome. I love it man, and you can follow Punit at Punit.pia on LinkedIn and also Punit.world right on Instagram.
Right, the Punit.world was taken. So I just got the world.
You got the whole world, man. That’s awesome. You get your homework. Cool. Well, thanks for being my man. I appreciate your energy. I appreciate your expertise and your vision of what the future might look like for privacy. Thank you, brother.
Thank you so much. Thanks for having me and keep on doing the great work that you’re doing, thank you so much.