What do you do?
My job is to help clients predict the future, then make it real.
The centrality of data in the economic environment is now a matter of fact. That can only increase exponentially in the upcoming years.
There is no technology circulated in the past two decades (eg the internet, cloud computing), or currently under development or refinement (think AI and IOT), that is not much or fully dependent on personal data. I have the good fortune to work on some of the most important technological projects at a European and global level, supporting clients to extract maximum value from the data in keeping with the principles that require the protection of individuals’ private sphere and their related privacy rights.
I could say I chose it almost by chance.
At the beginning, my interests and work were mainly focused on environmental law. Then a completely unexpected urgent situation with a multinational technology company forced many teams, including mine, to dive for a couple of weeks into data protection matters. It was the beginning of a one-way journey.
I was immediately fascinated by the tremendous power that data is capable of unleashing if properly leveraged, and I realised that the future would be increasingly linked to technologies guided by massive use of information deriving from our daily life.
What’s keeping you busy?
I am enormously interested and fascinated by artificial intelligence, which I am delving into far beyond what is necessary to advise our clients. Few other matters involve and intertwine legal, ethical, technological, philosophical and societal considerations so deeply.
I am especially focusing and working on synthetic data – namelyartificial information which is created from real data through machine-learning generative model (eg generative adversarial neural networks) and which can maintain the very same statistical properties of the original dataset while avoiding any risk for the rights of the individuals, especially when used in connection with other safeguards such as differential privacy. I think that synthetic data generation and secure computation may be the key to foster the development of a solid and wide Big Data ecosystem needed to exploit the full potential of AI, particularly for medical and scientific research.
What mentors or other influential figures have helped you get where you are today?
My parents taught me to recognise what is a priority from what is not, so to focus on what is most important every day.
My wife and children showed me that even the hardest working day can at any moment become light and stunning, together with them.
Finally, Rocco Panetta made me understood – paraphrasing Thomas Edison – that success is "1% inspiration, 99% perspiration" and that a good professional is above all an honest person, capable of putting ethics at the centre of every decision.
If you could change one data-related law, how and why would you change it?
I would introduce rules in the GDPR that leave to member States no room to manoeuvre to restrict the reuse – and also the exchange – of health data for scientific research purposes, provided that compliance is ensured with a set of common and specific rules.
The creation of a true European Health Data Space is extremely urgent, because the regulatory scene is still fragmented at national level, with the consequence that more and more often large and valuable clinical datasets cannot be pooled and shared across the EU (and beyond) even for such a crucial objective.
How has covid-19 affected what you do?
Bucking the trend, I would say positively, in terms of acquiring a deeper and more widespread consciousness about the importance of our data.
The pandemic has moved almost our entire life and daily needs online. Like it or not, we all had to realize that we are numbers floating in this endless ocean that is the web. This has had devastating effects in terms of discrimination against some huge segments of population, in any country in the world, including EU member states.
The long and forced stay at home and the need to work remotely have put each of us – brutally – in front of the importance of being able to count on efficient web technologies. The video conferencing market has undergone an unprecedented expansion and is expected to keep growing in the upcoming years, even beyond the covid-19 outbreak. On another side, e-commerce has proven to be, for many businesses, the only medicine against this choking market freeze.
Evidently, this is all fueled by our data, or rather, big data.
What’s the next big thing – what data opportunities are companies now looking at?
There are two main areas that are attracting much of the attention of the tech innovation market: distributed ledger technologies and artificial intelligence.
DLT has already many practical applications, but there is still a rather blurred regulatory framework, especially when it comes to blockchain or smart legal contracts.
AI is still fertile ground for scholars, but it is a tsunami ever closer to the shore that sooner or later will hit everything massively, upsetting the technological landscape we know today.
What’s keeping companies worried at the moment – what are some key data risks?
The new ePrivacy requirements that are now undergoing discussions at EU level in connection with web advertising and that will apply to all individual web tracking technologies (such as cookies, web beacons, embedded scripts, e-tags, fingerprinting and more) could strike the main nerves of some of the largest companies at a global level. Considering the full range of possible scenarios, there is a case where entire business models may have to be reshaped.
From a more general perspective, accountability is a double-edged sword. If used correctly, it is a fundamental tool to strengthen the trust of customers and of the entire market, as well as a key to opening doors to value-added services that were previously unimaginable. If ignored, it can even lead to a decrease in the company’s value, also in terms of brand and reliability, as well as to sanctions or business limitation (including a ban on processing) imposed by competent supervisory authorities.
What do you do to relax?
The thing that takes my mind off the most is cooking (when I cannot hike in the mountains).
I do also relax playing guitar (with headphones, early in the morning or, more often, late in the evening or at night).