Critical questions prevent data abuse and keep everyone’s eyes open!

Now that technology is becoming more prevalent in society, privacy is more important than ever. Iris Huis in ‘t Veld helps companies to comply with the privacy legislation. Because of her bachelor’s degree in Communication Science and her master’s degree in Philosophy of Science, Technology and Society, she’s not only specialized in the ethical aspects of new technologies, but she also knows everything about awareness processes within companies. Iris: “Creating privacy awareness amongst employees requires more than just hanging a list of the ten most important rules in the company cafeteria.”

Big brother is watching you, because you leave your data on Facebook and Google

Whenever you’re on Facebook, or you’re searching for something on Google, you’re leaving digital traces. Data that companies and governments can put to great use if they’d want to. By connecting available data and applying smart algorithms on this data, you can get to know a lot about someone’s behavior, and maybe even their future behavior. Iris mentions China as an example, where personal data of citizens is currently being stored on a large scale. “Chinese citizens that are violating rules, like running a red light, receive punishments. This way we will, also in the Netherlands, increasingly face algorithms that will predict if someone has a good credit rating and if a prisoner will revert back to his old criminal habits when he is released” Iris explains.

“But,” she wonders: “would you really want to live in such a society? Is it fair towards citizens? And how do these algorithms work exactly; are they controllable? In important role for the government is to make sure that data from the internet is handled in an appropriate way. The consumer should regain controle over his data and should be able to decide how this data can be used.”

The PSTS programme learned me how to pose critical questions, and it gave me insights in how to think about technology and the impact on societyPSTS Alumnus Iris

What is your job about?

Iris works at the consultancy firm Privacy Company, where she helps businesses to comply with the privacy legislation. She does this by giving advice, providing training and offering software tools. “We’re looking into what personal data our customers are processing and what they do with it. It’s my job to create awareness about privacy amongst employers and employees. Because you work with people that are used to a certain way of working, you need some persuasion skills. It’s important to make clear to a management team, which thinks that hanging a list of the ten most important privacy rules in the company cafeteria should be sufficient, that more is needed to achieve awareness amongst their employees. As soon as the management understands this, they will be willing to make time for the correct implementation of the privacy rules within the company. To successfully carry this out, it’s important that you reach the people in the workplace.

Next to advising companies, she also makes scientists understand how their research can influence society. Think about ethics, privacy, animal testing, using human tissue, abuse of research data, etc.. Iris: “I work for example as an ethics expert for the European Commission, and my job is to see if the proposals for research grants are meeting the requirements of the EC and controlling at current projects if the requirements are enforced. You can think about the development of camera drones. I look at the societal impact and if “privacy by design” is taken into account. In the run-up to the new privacy legislation I found myself in the lion’s den: between the lawyers. During this period I have learned a lot about the legal approach of privacy, how implementation of the new legislation works in practice and giving advice in a practical and understandable manner. Super interesting.”

How did you end up at the UT?

“I came to the UT because of the atmosphere that I experienced during my visit at the Open Day visit of the bachelor programme Communication Science. This programme offered me exactly what I was looking for: marketing, practice-oriented and highly appealing education. To gain insight in the societal impact of technology and because of the enthusiasm of a Philosophy of Science, Technology and Society lecturer, the choice for a master programme wasn’t difficult: it obviously became Philosophy of Science, Technology and Society! This programme learned me how to pose critical questions, and courses like Philosophy of Technology en Assessment of Emerging Technologies gave me insights in how to think about technology and the impact on society. I’m still using this knowledge in my job” Iris explains.

Friends for life

Iris was involved in a lot of extra-curricular activities, for example het membership at student association Audentis. “Our year club was called Mamilla. It was a club of 6 girls and we are still best friends. We live close to each other, we go on vacation together and we meet for a drink every now and then. During the course of your studies you really make friends for life” Iris says, with a twinkle in her eyes. “What’s also fun is the Whatsapp group for Philosophers in the west where PSTS students and alumni keep contact and friendships, exchange articles, keep each other posted about interesting lectures nearby or just to meet up for a drink and catch up about technology, PSTS and what people are doing these days. It’s really nice to be part of such a network of friends that share their fundamental interests” Iris concludes.

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