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Department of Business Ethics and Legal Studies hosts symposium

It was a lively night of discussion as four panelists answered questions on privacy, security, freedom of speech and antitrust issues. Sponsored by the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative, the Department of Business Ethics and Legal Studies (BELS) hosted a symposium the evening of Oct. 10 titled, “Big Tech, Big Data, Big Problems.”

Daniels Dean Vivek Choudhury opened the symposium by sharing his background in information systems.

“I’m here for one reason,” Dean Choudhury said. “You can argue that AI will be good for the world, that big data solves all problems. But to me the solution lies in what? It’s simple. It depends on you. You are the folks who will frame the future and determine how to use these technologies.”

Libbi Levine Segev, associate professor of teaching, moderated the symposium. She asked Professor John Holcomb to talk about the calls from many to break up some of the big tech companies.

Holcomb explained that in the 1970s there was a school of thought that big business is bad. But, now, he said, most courts are more concerned about market share or market dominance than the actual size of the company.

“If you have 90% market share you’re virtually a monopoly,” he said. Holcomb mentioned companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. He indicated that each of these companies has market dominance, and that there is a growing bipartisan concern in Congress about their market power. In Europe, there is even greater concern about their dominance.

Turning to the topic of privacy, Corey Ciocchetti, associate professor, shared how he was able to use Google to dig up a lot of information about his fellow panelists in just 10 minutes.

“I found out how old you are, your political affiliation, when you registered, your home address, your education, your work experience,” he said, listing numerous examples. Ciocchetti’s point was that companies like Google and Facebook thrive on information. It’s not in their self-interest to develop privacy policies or encourage use of them.

Panelist Patricia Elias, executive vice president, general counsel and head of global human resources at ServiceSource, used to teach in the BELS department. In her current role, her company operates out of Europe, Asia Pacific and the U.S.

She indicated that there is a wide disparity in how people view data privacy. In Europe, she said, people are focused on privacy and will report violations, but regulations vary greatly because other constituents don’t care as much.

Elias and Ciocchetti shared their own dilemmas. Elias cares about privacy, subscribes to Clear to get through the airport faster, and concludes that, “We’ve chosen convenience. Even in Europe where they care about privacy, they care more about convenience.”

Ciocchetti said that even though he teaches privacy law, he likes the convenience of Google Maps, so he doesn’t care much about blocking that data.

John Holcomb, Patricia Elias, Libbi Levine Segev, Don Mayer and Corey Ciocchetti

This topic resonated with senior management student Philip Addabbo.

“One thing that really stood out to me is how much power the people have in deciding how our data is used,” Addabbo said. “So many privacy policies have been changed due to peoples’ outcry for protection.”

No matter what business has your information, the panel agreed that the data is vulnerable.

“Almost 50% of small businesses have experienced a cyber attack,” said Don Mayer, professor of practice in BELS. “Only one out of 100 hacks gets punished, so there are incentives to stay ahead of the game.”

Elias echoed Mayer, saying, “It’s not if you’re going to get hacked. It’s when.”

Mayer went on to add that it’s not just businesses that are in danger; government attacks are more and more common too.

“We have a lack of government commitment,” Mayer said. “Congress can’t get its act together on how to find funds to resource government to protect it.”

Kulani Gonzales Stocks, a senior international business student, is interested in the future of the global economy and what technology and its regulatory landscape mean for her generation’s participation in the workforce and politics.

Gonzales Stocks said she came away from the symposium with an urgency for two things.

“It’ll be critical to build an international regulatory framework that protects people and privacy without stifling innovation,” she said, admitting that a solution is no easy task. She also thinks education is key. “The discussion made it so clear that, though so integral to everyday life, users and legislators understand very little of what is actually happening with data.”

The panelists also discussed the global conflicts over the dissemination of free speech via social media and protest, and the crackdowns in China on its use.  They also addressed the issues of political bias in the practices of Facebook and Google, and the need to screen out dangerous or hate speech.

The Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative delivers principle-based ethics education, and reinforces the value of ethical business and personal conduct. Each of the Ethics Initiative’s four components utilizes a specific approach to reach its target audience. Funding is provided through the Daniels Fund Grants Program. The fund is named for its founder and the founder of the College, Bill Daniels.

Please visit DU’s COVID-19 website and subscribe to @uofdenver Twitter for updates regarding COVID-19.

Please visit DU’s COVID-19 website and subscribe to @uofdenver Twitter for updates regarding COVID-19.