Recognition for our Privacy Enhancing Technology

Last week, the United Kingdom and the United States' governments announced the winners of the prize challenges to drive innovation in Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs) that reinforce democratic values, at the second Summit for Democracy.

This challenge was designed to inspire organisations to build solutions that ‘enable collaborative development of artificial intelligence (AI) models, while keeping sensitive information private’. You can read more in the UK government’s announcement here.

Organisations competed by developing innovative solutions to address practical data privacy concerns in real world scenarios.

We entered a white paper under Track 2 which asked for ideas to boost and improve the pandemic response capabilities in the UK and the US, by applying PETs to a federated learning model that simulated infection and behaviour information. The challenge focused on predicting individuals’ risk of infection, while ensuring that personal information remains protected from unauthorised systems and actors.

Organisers noted that the COVID-19 pandemic ‘incurred an immense human cost and socio-economic impact across the globe’ and that it also highlighted the importance of proactive planning and a global need to prepare ‘for public health emergencies by harnessing the power of data through privacy-preserving data sharing and analytics’.

We combined our knowledge of managing sensitive place-based data, privacy enhancing data processing techniques, and our committed passion for developing open geospatial solutions in this White Paper. We worked with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to design a solution that would meaningfully adhere to the regulatory frameworks that govern personal and health-related data. Our aim was to design a solution that is explainable. We prioritised accountability in our methodology, above optimising a black-box model.

Our entry was recognised with a special discretionary prize for ‘effectively demonstrating meaningful consideration of the regulatory implications of their solution and its consequences for information governance’.

We are honoured to receive this award. It is a recognition of our commitment to building responsible technology. We worked hard to ensure our solution fit with existing data privacy regulations and best practice. And we worked closely with the ICO to refine our approach.

The challenge included a multi-stage competition which involved a white paper submission, prototype development, and a ‘red-team’ phase. We were given a synthetic dataset (from the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute), which simulated a dynamic, real-like population.

A joint Demo Day will be held in London in May to continue building a transatlantic community of practice between innovators, privacy researchers and government.

The challenge was first announced at the inaugural Summit for Democracy in December 2021. Find out more about the challenge and hopes for future international collaboration in this area here.

Watch the full announcement of all the winners by Michelle Donelan, Secretary of State for the UK Department for Science, Innovation and Technology at the second Summit For Democracy late last week here.

If you want to build PETs with us, let us know:


April 2023