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CES 2020: Why HBO wants us to think twice about data privacy

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A Westworld-themed experience gave attendees a creepy glimpse into tech consequences of the future.

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TechRepublic’s Karen Roby talked to Steven Cardwell, vice president of program marketing at HBO, at CES 2020 about its Westworld display and the importance of data privacy. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation. 

Steven Cardwell: In the celebration of the upcoming season of Westworld, we decided to come to CES to launch Incite, which is a company that will be featured prominently in the third season of Westworld. And what better place to show up than a tech conference as a tech startup? Incite is essentially a company that promises to take your data and make it work for you, to eliminate the annoyance of choice because it can chart a path for you. And just given the conversation happening right now at CES, predominantly around data privacy, we thought this was a really great way to integrate into the conversation to not only talk about data privacy, but actually make people experience what it feels like when a company such as Incite actually has the power perhaps for good or bad.

SEE: CES 2020: The big trends for business (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature)

Karen Roby: For those that came to actually take part in this, members of the media, it probably felt quite intrusive, right? I mean, that’s the feeling we’re going for.

Steven Cardwell: I think for this to be successful, it needs to be intrusive because if it’s not intrusive then you’re not asking the question, what is my data worth? And weighing the balance of convenience and personalization, or is it going too far? And that the data in the hands of the wrong people could have serious effects. That’s a theme that’s being explored, and Westworld has always been a show that really examines current technology and the possible implications that could happen in the future.

Karen Roby: And it’s really turning the mirror on us, right? 

Steven Cardwell: Yeah, absolutely.

Karen Roby: We’re giving our data out every day like this.

Steven Cardwell: And I think we don’t quite understand how much of our data is really out there and who has it and what they’re doing with it. I think we blindly accept the terms and conditions, we check in on apps, we post things, but what we’re doing here is just scratching the surface. And I think serving people their data literally for dinner is a really eye-opening experience and a little creepy.

Karen Roby: It is a little bit creepy. Is it portrayed or will it be portrayed that the decisions will be made for us in life? Is that what’s kind of happening… what we’re going to?

Steven Cardwell: If you think about where we are with current algorithms, there are things that predict what you want to watch next, what you might want to eat, what you want to shop for. If you just consider all the thousands of data points out thereā€¦ . Incite is unveiling here at CES their strategy engine, which basically creates an algorithm that can determine the right path for you to take. So, we’re just as programmable as robots.

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