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Facebook's data record a 'catastrophe,' says AI head of one of the world's largest asset managers

Oscar Williams-Grut
Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
Catastrophe: A laptop showing the Facebook logo is held alongside a Cambridge Analytica sign at the entrance to the building housing the offices of Cambridge Analytica, in central London on March 21, 2018. Photo: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images

The head of artificial intelligence (AI) at one of the world’s largest asset managers has said Facebook’s (FB) recent record on user data is a “catastrophe.”

Charles Radclyffe, the head of AI at Fidelity Asset Management appeared on a panel discussing “Ethics, privacy, and independence in the digital age” at the Fintech Talents conference in London on Tuesday (30 October).

Responding to the moderator bringing up Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica data scandal, Radclyffe said: “Facebook, you mention Cambridge Analytica was an overstepping the mark, I mean I was astonished how they managed to downplay this. They potentially, allegedly had a quite a significant impact on two major referendums that could change the face of the planet, at least in the next 10 to 20 years.”

Whistleblower Christopher Wylie claims the Trump campaign was able to harvest data on millions of Facebook users data in the run up to the 2016 US election without their knowledge, using a historic loophole in Facebook’s terms of service. There have been similar allegations about these types of practices being used in Britain’s 2016 Brexit referendum.

Radclyffe said: “It’s more than an overstepping of the mark, it’s an absolute catastrophe, the fact that an unregulated organisation has had that reach and no one in the political system seems to have been able to prevent that from occurring.”

Radclyffe backed calls for stricter regulations and consequences for tech firms when it comes to data breaches, similar to those faced by banks. Facebook last month disclosed more data breaches that affected tens of millions of users.

Fidelity is the sixth largest asset manager in the world, with close to $2.5bn in assets under management. Radclyffe recently joined the company to “support innovation through adoption of emerging technologies,” according to his LinkedIn profile.

Later in the session, when discussing the ethics of chatbots, Radclyffe drew a comparison between mid-20th century tobacco companies privately discussing the health implications of their products and tech companies today privately discussing the ethics of chatbot and other AI technologies.

The banking industry, the technology industry should learn from that and have those conversations in public,” Radclyffe, who has a background in tech entrepreneurship, said.

“Whether we decide that chatbots should all have very attractive avatars, all be female, or should have enticing names that make you want to talk to them or should even pretend to be human-like — that’s a conversation we need to decide as a collective and it might be a very different outcome we reach here in the UK or Germany or China. I think we need to accept those points of difference and have that debate.”