Security & Privacy

Considering the role played by digital technology in society while respecting privacy

Changed on 06/12/2023
Digital technology has permeated most aspects of society, from social media and smart homes to connected objects, work and study, etc. But this rapid deployment has raised ethical questions. At a time when our data have acquired a market value and our privacy must be protected, the perpsective provided by the humanities can help us to consider the role we want digital technology to play in our lives.
Écran montrant la visualisation des appareils connectés dans une ville
© Inria / Photo C. Morel

A foundation established to explore the digital humanities

Digital technology is ubiquitous in our lives. To what extent can it help us to build the type of society we want to see? This is the question that the Fondation Humanisme numérique seeks to address. Established in February 2018 under the initiative of the Greater Nancy metropolitan council, this foundation brings together people from the worlds of science, economics, digital technology, art and literature.

The participants in the first meetings of its scientific board expressed a shared desire to explore and support what relates to the digital humanities at a local level. Future calls for projects, postponed due to council staffing changes and the COVID-19 pandemic, are expected to raise the profile of actors working in the field, associations, artists, researchers and app developers. The underlying idea is that because these issues affect everyone, any reflection on the role of digital technology in society will be incomplete without a contribution from the humanities.

Protecting personal data through interdisciplinarity

For the Privatics project team, which was established in 2014, interdisciplinarity is more than a need – it is an absolute requirement. It is not possible to protect privacy effectively in the digital world if we only consider the scientific and technical aspects. The protection of personal data requires legal, economic and cultural contributions, which means forming partnerships with researchers in the humanities and merging different vocabularies.

Here is an example we are all familiar with: after the GDPR (the General Data Protection Regulation) came into effect in 2018, we began to see banners on websites asking users if they consented to their personal data being collected and shared. Natalia Bielova, a research fellow with Privatics, has worked with a legal expert in the Netherlands on the legality of such banners, providing her colleague with the technical elements required to support her legal reflections, and to determine whether or not these banners contain hidden trackers.

Digital technology and the human and social sciences: a symbiotic relationship

Voice assistants and privacy protection

Based on artificial intelligence algorithms, our voice assistants need vast amounts of data in order to function. However, what we say reveals a lot about us and our families, which can lead to issues related to the security of our data and our privacy, as well as our individual and collective liberties. Comprise is an EU project that was established to tackle these cybersecurity-related issues. Allocated €3 million in funding for a three-year period (2018-2021), the project brings together around thirty or so researchers and engineers from the Multispeech and Magnet project teams, from Saarland University (Germany) and European manufacturers specialising in software development and providing legal expertise in data processing. Their goal is to develop effective learning methods that retain only what is actually useful from a set of data, and eliminating anything personal.