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De-identification technology: Securing personal information while allowing business to analyze consumer behavior - a win-win for all

Sandy Du, DIGITIMES, Taipei 0

The DeCloak team. Credit: DeCloak Intelligences

The ability to comprehend data has become one of the keys to operational efficiency in the world of business. As public awareness on privacy issues continues to grow, businesses must identify solutions that protect consumer privacy but maximize data value. Companies that respect individual privacy can enhance their competitiveness and establish a foothold in fiercely competitive environments.

The rapid popularization of digital technologies has led businesses to develop new business models that are becoming increasingly reliant on data, regardless of the industry. For instance, software platforms such as Google and Meta (formerly Facebook) utilize algorithms to analyze their users' search content and browsing behaviors to design software functions or push ads based on user preferences. E-commerce platforms also analyze purchase records to recommend products that may interest consumers. In addition to commercial uses, data has been used in different fields for various other purposes. Medical research institutes use massive amounts of medical history data and physiological imagery to maximize the effectiveness and accuracy of medical technologies. Transportation systems seek to consolidate pedestrian and vehicle traffic data to inform the public regarding route options and real-time traffic situations.

While data can increase enterprise revenue and optimize social systems, it can also violate the individual's personal privacy. As such, many countries have enacted laws to regulate the use of data, the most prominent being Europe's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which mandates that enterprises and organizations may not use personal data without consent. The regulation also guarantees the right to erasure, meaning individuals have the right to request the erasure of their personal data, identifying information, and search history on the Internet. This regulation, undoubtedly, has a direct impact on enterprises that view data as a critical asset. Fortunately, an article in the GDPR states that unidentifiable or de-identified personal data or information shall not be subject to these restrictions. Most countries have also enacted laws to this effect.

Although businesses may use data with unidentifiable user information, existing technologies and protection mechanisms make de-identification a challenging task. First of all, current passwords are getting easier to crack every day due to the rapidly growing capabilities of current processors, especially quantum computing, which will only keep improving. Obtaining personal data from a typical system is not a difficult task because typical systems are practically undefended. Even when forgoing password protection and directly deleting key information in personal data, interested parties can still infer the erased information through peripheral data, including age, place of residence, etc., which are not sufficiently protected. The solution to this problem requires both hardware and software to effectively mask critical information. DeCloak Intelligences' hardware chipset and software applications achieve data de-identification, allowing enterprises to expand into European and American markets without unnecessary hassles, and enabling governments to construct regulation-compliant smart cities.

DeCloak Intelligences, founded in 2020, aims to provide microchip-security level de-identification technology and services for user behavior data. In terms of hardware, DeCloak Intelligences has released a PPU (privacy processing unit) chip which has evolved into a USB format PPU-Dongle and an adhesive type PP-SIM PPU chip based on the core technology of differential privacy. This technology can randomly add numbers to destroy identifiable segments of data while maintaining data integrity to achieve de-identification. To operate, the PPU-Dongle just needs to be inserted into a device's USB port while the PP-SIM is attached to the SIM card of a smartphone or mobile device. Data is transferred using a de-identified format to the back-end, allowing businesses to utilize DeCloak Intelligences' predictive AI data algorithm to perform big data analysis or decode data trends.

DeCloak Intelligences Co-President Dr. Yao-Tung Tsou stated that the PPU chip is not only powerful and capable of quickly removing identifying data, it is also small in size, about the size of a rice grain, which allows it to be easily integrated into various electronic devices. The predictive AI data algorithm can ensure that data remains private while being analyzable, making it mutually beneficial for both enterprises and users.

Currently, DeCloak Intelligences' hardware and software solutions have been adopted by several organizations, including Taiwan's county and municipal governments as well as logistics companies to analyze pedestrian flow data within cities. In addition, plans to market the product overseas and partnership with various foreign companies will inspire even more creative applications.

When DeCloak Intelligences was just founded, TTA provided crucial support by paving the way for the company to take part in multiple projects and attend major exhibitions overseas. The company's products earned the attention of a reporter from tech media EETimes at the CES 2020, resulting in an article spotlighting the company's hardware and software solutions which drew the interest of major international companies. Dr. Yao-Tung mentioned that with the support of TTA, DeCloak Intelligences has been able to continue the optimization of their business model and increase its visibility. In the future, DeCloak Intelligences will strive to engage partners from different fields to expand the scope of their products' applications.

DeCloak Team

DeCloak Team
Photo: DeCloak Intelligences

(Editor's note: The original article was published in TTA Magazine Issue 9. Read more startup stories in TTA Magazines.)

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