In Children, Photo sharing, Privacy

As an Australian, 2020 kicked off to a tumultuous and gut-wrenching start with the loss of land, homes, lives and wildlife from the bush fires that have swept our nation. While we’ve felt somewhat out of control, unsafe and vulnerable in the face of ongoing drought and catastrophic fires, we are seeing some positive shifts when it comes to the safety, and control, we have over our lives in this ever-progressing digital world.

As a privacy focused business leader, I am optimistic this year will bring some monumental shifts to the way we manage our identity online and I believe we’ll see some big wins when it comes to regulatory measures surrounding data harvesting and image use.

Already, since 2018, events such as the Cambridge Analytica (CA) incident and the introduction of GDPR have propelled more than 60 countries to introduce privacy laws. Similarly, the recommendations handed down by the ACCC late last year indicate that Australia too is turning its attention to what is emerging as a major issue for business and private individuals.

I haven’t felt this positive about the future of privacy in a long time and as the CEO of a privacy-centric company, that’s saying something!

Why selling a privacy-based business hasn’t been easy?

Having spent more than ten years in senior management in media, and being there when MySpace and Facebook were rivals, I had a front row seat as digitisation spread its reach through our world.  When I had my first child, I then witnessed first-hand how the digital transformation was directly impacting her privacy and her personal future digital footprint, even as a newborn! This became a real source of concern to me and led me to do my own research to create a meaningful and functional solution. It was my firm belief looking at the stats on “sharenting” and more sinister uses online, that, if I did not act,  our kids would grow up with little privacy and be placed in high risk situations, mostly unintentionally, that could cause them great harm (physically or emotionally).

When I started our business in 2012, the issue of privacy was not on anyone’s radar. Researchers and psychologists alike were attributing this to the fact that people were preferring convenience over security. As the LA times wrote early in 2019, “collective indifference is what keeps Big Data in business and keeps consumers constantly scrambling to find out who has access to their personal information”.

When I started knocking on doors to sell our product five years ago, the typical response I received was: “Our parents don’t care about privacy”, or, “We are going to wait until something bad happens”. I always wondered what people meant by that. A typical sales cycle took six to twelve months, even when we were highly responsive and despite the fact there was a clear emerging demand for our proposition.

Yet, even with all the knock backs and lack of mainstream attention, we maintained a strong belief that privacy features in an online product would be a key differentiator.  Something that people needed.  My experience through countless conversations and research was that most of the adult population believed in a right to privacy and that this belief would pass down to their children. We were also hearing reports such as  Interpol having a database containing 1.5 million images of children being abused, with 15 new children being identified everyday worldwide. These statistics keep us on course!

Driven by a greater purpose – doing things the right way from day one!

Our board, team and I were driven by a core purpose; to provide an image management solution that protects children and educates them, their schools and parents, on the risks of image sharing. The heart of this offering is our unique privacy features.

Most big tech companies, even start-ups, were placing privacy in the “too hard basket”. If no one was complaining, why should they change what they’re doing?  It was so much easier to do nothing. The thought of restricting profits by embedding privacy into a service was too hard to contemplate. Now, obviously, with tougher privacy regulations coming into play and consumers getting smarter, this attitude had to change. The burning platform may not have been visible at the time, but even then, it was starting to smoulder.

I’ll admit, especially in the early days, making key product decisions around privacy always ended up in further discussions with the CFO, mainly centred around the cost and impact on profit. We were taking a more expensive set-up path i.e. we couldn’t use mainstream digital selling platforms or marketing channels, use their CRM tools or leverage social media plug-ins for fear our customer data would end up in the wrong hands. In reading their terms and conditions, we could see no guarantee that our clients’ data would remain their own to control and delete when they wanted.

Since we were wanting to act as a contracted service provider to leading independent schools, we could never, in good faith, sign up our clients to third party providers who did not guarantee personal data wouldn’t be brokered. This made it difficult to quickly build an all “bells & whistles” product, but we hoped our clients understood why we made such decisions.  Our focus, always, is to protect their data.

We were very lucky to be supported by an amazing local investor; a highly respected successful businessperson who came in with eyes wide open and a strong belief in our cause. I now feel compelled to regularly share advice on the importance of partnering with the right investors to young entrepreneurs.

Why embedding privacy tools is essential for any company, but especially schools, in 2020

Gartner predicts that this year companies will embrace privacy to drive digital transformation. Gartner suggests 4 ways CIOs and IT leaders do this:

  1. Drive privacy programs at scale via automation of a function which is highly repetitive and high traffic
  2. Be proactive in adopting governance agility to get ahead of the curve on tougher regulation: build a holistic and adaptive privacy program that scales across the organisation
  3. Ensure privacy risk is observed and managed across the organisation by appointing a privacy or data protection officer
  4. Pursue enhanced privacy management, compliance insight and privacy control over personal data by first using existing capabilities from bordering disciplines. Plan to spend additional budget on new capabilities.

Gartner says it is critical to embed a universal consent and preference management (UCPM) tool in any organisation wishing to establish and maintain privacy programs (exactly what my company provides).

For organisations managing the personal data of children, one of the most vulnerable groups open to online exploitation, getting privacy right is not only critical but essential.  Every school must comply with student data privacy and online safety regulations. They also have a legal (and moral) duty of care to protect students’ images as part of an over-arching responsibility to protect students’ health and well-being.

So, how does partnering with pixevety help?

Many people ask me: “So what is it pixevety actually does?”.

At its core, pixevety has been built as an enterprise solution providing an automated, privacy-centric online image gallery for communities to enjoy.  We also give expert advice to organisations regarding image privacy best practice. Today, we mainly partner with schools to improve access, organisation and protection of their photo and video collections.

Owning a pixevety gallery is much more than owning an advanced AI-driven photo management tool. Here’s a quick list of its unique features compared to other solutions available:

  • Each gallery has its own customised built-in consent module where a member (i.e. student, parent or staff member) can provide their own consent on how they wish others to use their images. This consent is then linked to every asset they are tagged in, to clearly communicate their wishes to anyone who gains access to their content. What does this mean for parents? They gain greater transparency and control over what is being done with their child’s images. What does this mean for a school? It has greater control over media captured on its grounds and an ability to meet the privacy wishes of parents. This automated real-time consent module technology is unique to pixevety and not available anywhere else in the world.
  • Every element of privacy has been considered (not added as an after-thought) including the use of AI technology, whose primary role is to improve the efficiency of photo management tasks (people and object identification and tagging) so that administrators no longer waste hours looking for that “one photo“ or ensuring proper consent is given prior to publishing on social media. In using facial recognition technology, pixevety’s closed facial recognition function is intended to be a privacy enabling and enhancing technology, strictly limited and partitioned at the gallery level to avoid inappropriate searching and cross-matching of images and names across unconnected galleries. Each gallery runs its own facial recognition process, meaning recognised faces are named in a manner that is meaningful for a particular gallery. pixevety will never compile a “face database”.
  • We are a contracted service provider for a school, acting as an extension of the school and taking on the same level of responsibility in ensuring their images are protected. Each school gallery is completely locked down with access given by invitation only. Folders can be locked down so only certain invited audiences have access. There is an exclusive VIP area where parents (when given access) can quickly go and see the latest photos of their children. Schools have total control over their gallery content…who gets access, what role they are given, what photos and videos they can see.
  • Access from anywhere from any device, easy to use and easy tagging for quick search and retrieval of all file types, and filtering results based on consent wishes – everything and more that you would expect from any smart media asset management solution.

Our hard work has started to pay off with the support of many wonderful independent schools here in Australia who understand the importance of image protection and want to partner with us on this privacy journey.  We now have a suite of amazing clients across Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Hong Kong, with plans for further overseas expansion in 2020.

I hope sharing my experience helps others to take the first bold step towards building many more businesses with privacy at the core. There is no better time than now!

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