Larry Ellison talks about why data collection and use is not inherently bad



This is a part of our coverage of the Japan New Economy Summit 2014. You can follow our updates on Twitter as well at @thebridge_e.

Last year the Japan New Economy Summit in Tokyo featured a number of interesting speakers from the international tech community (see our coverage here), and this year is no different, with Oracle CEO Larry Ellison opening day one with a keynote session that. He talked about data privacy, and gave a reasoned defense of data collection and use, condemning those who irrationally criticize the technology. Below are some selected highlights from his talk, recorded not quite verbatim, but close to it:

I’d like to talk about data privacy in the age of the internet and cloud computing. Let me start with two words: Edward Snowden. He tells us that our government is collecting enormous amounts of information about us.

Ellison notes that no one has named a single individual/example of this data being misused. Yet.

No one is saying the government records our phone conversations, but what it does record is who I called and who called me. Snowden said we should be very worried. He left the democracy of the US and went to Moscow – a bastion of free speech (smiles) – and told us that we should be concerned about our government. That they are spying on us.

Privacy and the age of the internet is not a technology issue at all. If you want us to keep all your personal information private we know how to do that. We can encrypt voice, data, we can guarantee that no one can spy on you. And you the people can decide if that’s what you want.

In my country, the government is thinking of telling the NSA to mend their ways, because the people are putting pressure on the government. That’s the good thing about being an American, to have the ability to change the government. It is your decision. Our databases our technology can make sure that it is impossible to break in and decrypt that data. It’s simply a matter of what you want.

Edward Snowden has yet to name a single person who has been harmed by the collection of this data. […] Maybe that will happen in the future. […] Airplanes have been misused, but it doesn’t mean we should stop building airplanes. Every technology can be misused. Imagine the first caveman who discovered technology. […] It’s a fabulous technology. But there’s one guy in the cave who said, no no no, fire is dangerous. People will be burned at the stake. We have to stop fire now. My point is every technology can be misused.

Larry Ellison

We shouldn’t ban the gathering of data, but rather we should punish those who misuse it.

Let’s look at history. Do you really want to keep all your data private? I don’t think so. I think you are anxious to share the most intimate details of your life for something of value. I believe you would be willing to tell me where you work, how much you own on your car, where you went shopping last week (lists many examples) — I believe you would be happy to give me all that data about you, as long as I would be willing to give you, for example, a credit card. And that’s exactly what you did. You disclosed all the details about your family’s financial life in order to make shopping easier. But it’s interesting how much privacy we are willing to trade away to make shopping more convenient. […] It eased commerce. It stimulated the economy. It made us much wealthier. It allowed banks to extend loans in the fraction of a second.

That’s one example. Let me give you another example. I believe you would name all your friends, put pictures of you aunts and uncles online, put pictures of yourself on vacation. You disclose all those details voluntarily, in exchange for being a member of Facebook. Your trading an incredible amount of personal information, to see pictures of your kids in college, you get a little bit closer to your family and friends, and you willing give up enormous amounts of privacy as part of that deal.

You’re going to give me a complete map of your DNA and you’re going to do it voluntarily. You’ll give me every medical record on you, every test you took, you’ll want me to take it all. Every excruciating detail about your health. You can choose to give it and you can choose to hold it. You can dislose your health records on an individual basis just like you can join Facebook or not join Facebook. Let’s say you have high cholesterol, wouldn’t it be nice if he could go into the database and see what drug works best for people with the same genome characteristics as you? The only want to get that would be to disclose your details. To opt in. Wouldn’t you like your doctor to have that information. It would have your government a lot of money as well. You stay out of hospital, you can go to work. Your insurance company doesn’t have to pay. By sharing there are enormous benefits to you and society as a whole.

What is the government trying to do? They are trying to prevent terrorism, trying to connect the dots. Is it worth trading a little of your phone bill in exchange for preventing another 9/11 in New York City?

We can decide what we want to do with this technology that is neither inherently good nor inherently bad. We decide how much of this privacy we trade off for safety. It’s very different than in Russia where Mr. Snowden now lives.