Artificial intelligence / May 09, 2024

Protecting your privacy in today’s AI world: a conversation with Pam Snively, Chief Data & Trust Office at TELUS

Nimmi Kanji

Nimmi Kanji

Director - Social Purpose Programs, For Good and TELUS Wise

Person typing on laptop

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming increasingly pervasive in our lives - both personally and professionally. As we take advantage of the benefits it offers, how can we protect our privacy and safety? Is there regulation in place to protect us? How can we use AI responsibly and demand that the companies we interact with do the same?

We asked Pam Snively, Chief Data & Trust Officer at TELUS, and thought leader on AI, privacy and data ethics, these questions and more. She stresses the importance of data and AI literacy, so we can understand the opportunities and implications of this technology.

Q: How embedded is AI into our everyday lives? What are the associated privacy and online safety implications?

PS: AI is embedded more deeply than we realize, and most people are unaware of how much they are actually using AI in everyday tools - ride sharing apps, smartphone cameras and virtual assistants are good examples. Generally, there is a lack of understanding around AI, including how data is being used. That’s where the privacy implications of AI arise, AI needs a huge volume of data to be trained, therefore it amplifies privacy issues.

We also know that bad actors are using AI to increase the speed and efficiency of online scams. Deepfakes are gaining popularity, and targeted campaigns can fool just about anyone. We’re starting to see a tsunami of misinformation and disinformation, generated and propagated by AI. While it is good practice to clearly identify and label AI-generated content, this is not mandatory on every platform and as such, can be misleading. All of us need to be more discerning in determining what’s real and what’s not and make up our own minds about the information we’re presented with.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. People are hungry to learn more about these technologies and improve their media and data literacy. We have external initiatives like TELUS Wiseᵀᴹ (and internal programs at TELUS) focused on building these data literacy skills.

Q: In TELUS’ 2024 AI Report, 78% of the 5,000 Canadians surveyed agree that AI’s development and usage should be regulated. What is currently happening with regulation?

PS: AI is not the wild west. There are important laws in place to address a lot of the concerns around AI. Our privacy legislation applies to AI. Our human rights legislation protects equity-deserving groups. We have intellectual property laws in place. But there are always new risks that surface with transformational technology. Canada, along with other countries across the globe, will have to address these frontier risks. With any emerging technology like AI, we have blind spots as to what requires protection. Encouragingly though, there is a large degree of collaboration internationally on solving this common problem. Our report found that regulation is supported by Canadians - as is development by experts such as data ethics professionals. We found that respondents want to have input but they recognize the complexity of AI in managing it so that we can bring out the potential, and mitigate risks.

Q: The report also highlighted a gap in education and awareness. How can Canadians learn about AI and understand how it’s impacting their everyday lives?

PS: There are a lot of opportunities for education. I encourage everyone to experiment with the tools to understand how they work. You can watch videos on YouTube, take a LinkedIn Learning course, and check out TELUS Wise’s great resources for youth and families. Schools and educators can also facilitate conversations about AI and critical thinking. Instead of all the focus being on the negative aspects of AI, it’s important to shift the narrative to how we can use AI for more creative problem solving.

Q: How can people take advantage of the many benefits of AI while protecting their safety and privacy?

PS: Participating in the online world amplifies our need to be alert and vigilant. Now, more than ever, it’s critical that we educate ourselves and stay informed as AI advances. Our critical thinking skills are essential, as is our intuition. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. We must be consistently careful about the information we share and why we’re being asked to share it. If a company asks you for information, get curious. Find out why. If the answer doesn’t make sense to you, take a minute to determine whether it’s a safe encounter or not and say no if you’re not comfortable sharing.

It’s so important that we translate our sense of safety in the physical world to the digital world. Trust your instincts and pay close attention to the currency of trust. When you know and trust an individual or organization, you can feel comfortable sharing more, which allows for a richer interaction.

Q: AI has intensified the importance of trust building in our digital lives. What does it mean to build trust in the digital age, and how should we all be modifying our expectations and behaviours?

PS: Organizations need to be both trusted and trustworthy. Transparency and demonstrating accountability are key. When using an emerging technology, we will sometimes get things wrong. Being accountable, making it right and correcting are part of earning trust. It’s also essential to demonstrate a commitment to beneficial outcomes. When you see a track record of socially responsible behaviour in how a company invests its money and delivers its services, it’s far more likely that company will be responsible with your data and the technology they deploy when interacting with you. If you look at an organization like TELUS, our track record shows that our business decisions take social outcomes and benefits into account. That commitment extends to how we apply AI as well.

Q: Any final thoughts?

PS: Improving your data and AI literacy is the most important thing anyone can do right now. That knowledge will help all of us take advantage of the promise of AI while mitigating the risks. There are so many opportunities to accelerate positive outcomes, learning and growth. Everyone has a chance to participate meaningfully in this technology revolution. If we are going to get this right, we need to hear and amplify different perspectives, correct inequities and come together globally in a united way.

To learn more about AI, you can complete the free TELUS Wise responsible AI online workshop. Although designed for high school students, it is a great resource to help anyone learn more about artificial intelligence. The workshop addresses common AI myths, dives into AI ethics and helps build critical thinking skills. The workshop was developed in partnership with the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), an organization supported by the Government of Canada and a leader in AI research.

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