From PET to CET

By Frank van Vonderen

"Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs) have an image problem: 'name conceals function.' The terminology surrounding PETs will tell you what happens in the engine room, but will not reveal what problem will be solved with PETs. And right from the start, you encounter an issue, because the name 'PET' is actually too restrictive and undersells itself.

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What do I mean? Many PETs seem, based on their name, to have been developed to facilitate the exchange of personal data in contexts where organizations want to collaborate with data. For example, to find agreement ('is person X also known to you') or to perform analyses on shared data / each other's data.

In reality, PETs help with a much broader challenge: PETs assist organizations in collaborating with data. However, there are many examples of data that is so sensitive or confidential that you don't want or can't easily share it. Think of competitively sensitive information or classified data. This is where PETs come into play.

Imagine that due to sensitivity and confidentiality, you don't want to share all underlying data, but you're willing to share general questions / insights. This doesn't necessarily have to involve personal data, but they are questions where those same techniques for matching, multi-party computation, and federated learning can play a facilitating role. This opens up new possibilities for collaboration.

So, in essence, we shouldn't refer to them as PETs, but as 'CETs' – 'Collaboration Enhancing Technologies.' Technologies that make it possible to provide other organizations with insights and knowledge about your data without those other organizations needing to see the actual data. And if the data itself doesn't need to be shared, a significant (legal and administrative) sensitivity of collaboration is addressed. After all, you maintain control and oversight over the data's use.

Organizations looking to implement PETs should not only seek applications where personal data must be shared. PETs are suitable for all situations where organizations want to collaborate and share insights but are hesitant to share data considered sensitive or confidential. Recognizing this broadens the possibilities and applications of PETs. Oops, I mean CETs.

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More information about PETs?

Contact Frank van Vonderen.

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