Facebook opening data up will pave the way for other corporations to follow suit in a more legal and ethical manner

“Facebook will open its data up to academics to see how it impacts elections”

The headline above seen in MIT Technology Review twitter feed definitely caught my attention as it was timely and related to my post yesterday.

So last week Facebook announced the first researchers who will have access to Facebook’s privacy-protected data as part of its role to promote independent research on social media’s role on elections. You can read the announcement here. Basically, Facebook wants to correct the world’s perceptions on them that their existence makes the world a better place, they do not misuse or allow third parties unknowingly misuse their biggest asset which is the users data.

I applaud this initiative, ignoring any political agenda behind it, if there is. This will actually set the foundation/framework on data sharing because Facebook aims to do it by “ensuring that privacy is preserved and information kept secure” and that it “acts in accordance with its legal and ethical obligations to the people who use their service”. Whatever they intend to do, they would not compromise people’s privacy. According to the announcement, Facebook has “consulted some of the country’s leading external privacy advisors and the Social Science One privacy committee for recommendations on how best to ensure the privacy of the data sets shared and have rigorously tested their infrastructure to make sure it is secure.

What’s interesting to me is they are building a process to remove personal identifiable information (“PII”) from the data set and specifically testing the application of differential privacy, an increasingly used innovative method of anonymising data which is a machine learning technique based on neural networks. In ODI’s report on Anonymisation and Open Data, differential privacy is defined as follows:

Differential privacy is a property of data systems that allows collection of aggregated statistics about a dataset but obfuscates individual records. When queried, a small amount of noise is added to the data such that if any one record were removed, the query result would stay the same. This means those using the data can never be entirely certain about any single person’s data.

If this is deemed successful, this will actually pave the way for other corporations specifically the traditional ones who are sitting on customers data to have the comfort of sharing privacy-protected data to external parties to harness the power of big data. The biggest challenge is to get the traditional lawyers, CEOs, senior management understand that anonymised data is NOT personal data.

Is hashed/anonymised data personal data (part 2)

Eversince I stumbled upon the Open Data Institute as I mentioned last week, I’ve been following what they do and reading their blog, research papers, opinions etc. Thinking whether I should I subscribe as an individual member so that I get to be part of their solution on how to build an open, trustworthy data ecosystem. Data is a subject close to my heart as you can read from my other related posts here and here (if you have not and new to my blog!). 

Anyway, ODI recently in their blog talked about anonymisation and synthetic data which are techniques to remove identification of personalities from personal data so that the data can be shared either openly or closely but to third parties for a good use which needs to be defined by data stewards. But the question that I have until today, is from legal’s perspective, are anonymised/hashed data considered as personal data still? If you ask me, the answer is no, because you can’t simply unearth the person’s name or information from the anonymised data.

Here’s a sample of how a raw data transformed into anonymised data, say for example I have access to number of hours logged on Instagram by a set of people.

Raw data:

Name ID Date of Birth Number of hours logged on Instagram per day
Melissa D 1/1/1988 3.2
Ali Muthu 5/24/1993 5.6
Abigail 8/15/1976 2.8

Anonymised data:

Name ID Age-Range Number of hours logged on Instagram per day
507581 30-35 3.2
699393 25-30 5.6
769250 40-45 2.8

Now tell me, from the anonymised table above, how can I tell if Melissa D spent 3.2 hours a day on Instagram? I can’t, hence it shouldn’t be classified as personal and hence the data can be shared. But I can’t overrule the law, can I? Based on what I’ve read so far, the answer to this is still very vague but it’s not as rigid as we thought it is.

Below is the definition stated by the most stringent law when it comes to personal data which I extracted from ODI’s report on Anonymisation and Open Data:

The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) defines personal data as:

any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (‘data subject’); an identifiable natural person is one who can be identified, directly or indirectly, in particular by reference to an identifier such as a name, an identification number, location data, an online identifier or to one or more factors specific to the physical, physiological, genetic, mental, economic, cultural or social identity of that natural person

The UK’s Office for National Statistics defines private information as: information that

  • relates to an identifiable legal or natural person, and
  • is not in the public domain or common knowledge, and

The key word here is identifiable. If it is not identifiable, then it should no longer be deemed as personal data, at least that’s how I would interpret it.

Why does this question matter and the answer needs to be transparent so that more data sharing can be done for value creation purposes by corporations? So that we don’t need to spend hours arguing with our traditional lawyers haha.

Jokes aside, it matters so that we can focus on the real work than the risk we carry by processing, sharing and using the data. It matters because you can adopt all kinds of techniques or tools to reduce the risk of personal data re-identification, but if the law remains vague, it’s difficult for traditional-mindset companies to innovate and harness the power of big data in this so called data-hungry world.

ODI’s report on Anonymisation and Open Data also highlighted that Syntethic Data which is created by an automated process such that it holds similar statistical patterns as an original dataset, can contain no personal data even though it is based on a dataset that holds personal data. The automated process is done by a machine learning method called deep-learning, a method which has gained fame in recent years and utilized by some of the big players in the US and China (and as you may know, the method which can make or break self-driving cars). If this holds true, then I would have the answer to my question on is anonymised data personal data. 


Ramadhan Al Mubarak

I admire those who actually look forward to the fasting month, even more admire those who have specific goals to achieve in this holy month. Unfortunately for me, I feel neutral to be honest. I think partly because I have not been fasting for 2 years in a row – 2017 I was pregnant while 2018 I was breastfeeding. I still am breastfeeding but my milk supply has depleted anyway since my son is already 18 months old. So I believe that fasting will not have any impact to my current milk supply.

Nevertheless, I’m determined to fast this time. What I look forward to is to wake up much earlier than usual for sahur because I usually don’t sleep back after sahur. Hopefully I get to write in the morning back again after not being able to do so for the past few weeks.

As I reflect upon what I just wrote, I realised that I should aim to recite at least 1 page of Quran everyday. If I can blog everyday, why can’t I read the Quran everyday?

Few days ago, someone asked me why I decided to write everyday. I said it is just to create a routine/healthy habit that I actually commit and follow through everyday. The rest is bonus. Secretly, it is also to force myself to wake up in the morning to perform my Subuh prayer.

I guess I could say that by diligently writing everyday, I then ask myself, why can’t I do other important things that I should also be doing everyday? It’s a good check and balance.

Ramadhan Al Mubarak everyone! Let’s be more positive this month and do more good deeds than we usually do! As for me, I really hope I can maintain the positive energy throughout the day. If I could fast for almost 20 hours when I was in MIT in 2016 when the schedule was extremely hectic, why can’t I do it now?

Parenting 101 – EQ is as important as IQ, if not more

I’ve just finished listening to one of the episodes of Dr. Rajini Sarvananthan’s podcast on BFM. Dr. Rajini is the best paediatrician in the country, focusing on child development. If you want to meet her, your child would have to have a serious problem, otherwise, you will be on a 1-2 years waitlist. So in a way, it’s good news if your child does not need to see her.

But you know sometimes you just want to get advice from an expert about what’s best for your child in terms of development because you want the best for your child. Thankfully, BFM interviewed her before, multiple times and the interviews are recorded on BFM’s podcast. You can listen to all her interviews here to get some tips. She should really consider writing a book.

The episode that I listened to was a really good one, the title is “Raising Resilient Children”.

Some advice that I find useful are as follows:

  1. In the first 5 years of your child, you need to focus on the 4 Cs – Competence, Confidence, ability to Connect and building on their Character
  2. In terms of competence – you would want your child to be independent in terms of looking after themselves which include feeding, toiletting skills, dressing, wearing shoes and more importantly, to be able to apply those basic skills in different settings, not just at home but also at other places such as day care centre, grandparents’ home, someone else’s home etc
  3. Social competencies which include basic communication skills are also important, i.e. you would want your child to be able to communicate their needs through signs, gestures and to be able to do it in different community settings. When your child is able to do it in different settings, indirectly it builds your child’s confidence
  4. We also need to focus on building our child’s connection – within and beyond family, i.e. be able to connect with other people around them which indirectly builds up their confidence, resilience and independence. Within family, you want them to know that home is not just a physical secure environment but also an emotional secure environment so that your child will continue to share and talk to you even during teenagers and beyond.

Basically what she’s trying to emphasize is the need to hone our child’s EQ as much as his IQ early on so that he can survive in the real world when he grows up. With automation and AI taking our jobs, I too believe that these are the essential life skills that a child needs to acquire and hold on to.

If you want to know more, listen to her podcast and other episodes. It’s the closest you can get to meeting her.

Being Tough vs. Being Compassionate

Dr. Kai-Fu Lee highlighted what his mentor said about his leadership skill in his “My Journey Into AI” book, as below:

I saw you as a compassionate leader, well liked by most people, but sometimes it takes more than being nice to win people’s respect. As a leader, you must effectively execute what’s good for the company and be a good judge on when to put aside your compassion and become a tough manager.

I could totally relate to this as I’m currently facing a similar situation.

The truth is, before I went to MIT in June 2016, my 360 degrees feedback report showed that everyone, i.e. bosses and subordinates rated me highly on execution. The feedback was consistent across all levels, internal and external teams, which means I’m very good at execution, without a doubt. But, at the expense of burning bridges. Not in the extreme case where I created enemies that they refused to talk to me, but they felt that they were just doing the job because I asked them to. When I received the report, I thought to myself, in my defense, there were a lot of ad-hoc requests (back then) and everyday felt like we were fire fighting especially in 2H 2015 when China devalued Yuan causing blood bath in the market. Hence, there was no time to explain, no time to syndicate, no time for consensus-based decision making. You gotta do what you gotta do.

But as I reflected upon the feedback, I realized that in some situations especially when you have to make changes, not incremental changes but transformational changes, you need to build repo with the right people,  you need to create ally, you need to get support from the right people, you need a team to follow you, you need to syndicate earlier on.

Upon returning to the organization after a year at MIT, I tried to practice what I learned in school. Without me realizing, I have more empathy and compassion in me, partly also because I am now a mother, which I thought is good. But, it doesn’t work when I have to make hard changes. Sometimes being compassion slows you down. You forgive other people easily when they did not submit their work on time. You tried to understand their position first before penalizing them. You compromised. As a result, you couldn’t get what you want. Is it your fault or underperforming people’s fault?

Finding the right balance between being tough and being compassionate is never easy. But like I said above, if you want to make effective transformational changes, being tough trumps compassionate. You almost need to be a dictator so that people listen to you. Not ideal but it is what it is.

Need to be More Proactive in Taking Care of Ourselves

I’ve been having a lot of phlegm lately, I keep having to throw it out from my throat. It’s getting really annoying. Even my nose is blocked during the day, not just in the morning. I thought maybe my sinus has worsen that I need to undergo an operation. But I didn’t do anything about it, I just endured it, until today.

Today I decided to take action. I went to the clinic to seek help. I really wanted the doctor to check me and recommend me to an ENT specialist if need be. I’ve been postponing to see the doctor because the queue is always long and I don’t have much time to spare. But I thought this is my health and I should be more proactive in taking care of myself before it negatively affects my personal and professional lives.

This is what the doctor said.

You don’t have fever and your breathing is normal. You don’t need to see ENT specialist. You just have to allow your immune system fight the airborne bacteria. The air that you breathe is just very dirty.

I was stunned.

So she gave me nasal spray, fluimucil to break down the phlegm, sore throat spray and flu pill. She also asked me to take 1000mg vitamin C everyday and after this episode, she advised me to take flu shots to strengthen my immune system.

The medications helped me a lot and I’m feeling much better.

But I’m still stunned by her hypothesis.

Is the air that we breathe really dirty? Is it because of that? I admire those who have passion to fight climate change because I don’t. I’m aware of it and I will try my very best to act in accordance to fight climate change, but it won’t be part of my main agenda/topics of interest. But if the increase in airborne bacteria is due to climate change, then I should be interested about climate change because the threat is real.

Let’s be more proactive in taking care of ourselves and our environment.

Happy Labour Day!

When it comes to work and the hours we pour for work, there is no one universal method/concept that works for everyone. It really varies, depending on each individual’s circumstances, personal life, other responsibilities, work ethics, values, goals.

Last Sunday, NST published an article by NST Leader on related subject, entitled “Rostering Routines”. The main message is to urge Malaysians to be more productive at work and home, to have a more enriching work-life balance.

Last week, there were a lot of noise about China’s work ethics saying that the tech employers tend to exhaust the employees to work tirelessly just to get the work done, to achieve their ambitious goals. It all started when Jack Ma called long working hours “a huge blessing”. Richard Liu, from JD.com, said people who frittered away their days “are no brothers of mine”. They even has a term for it – 996, i.e. working from 9am to 9pm 6 days a week, a culture they refer to as “hustle culture”.

And then in the US, FT published a long interview on Warren Buffett (which I must say a good weekend read) and quoted this from the man himself, “I’m having a vacation every day. If there was someplace else I wanted to go, I’d go there. This is the pleasure palace here — you’re sitting in it now. I have more fun here than I think any 88-year-old is having, virtually, in the world.” Which means, he doesn’t mind working every day.

From the glance of it, the successful founders in 2 most powerful countries in the world are portraying that they love working and that we should continue to work for as long as we want to reach greater heights. And they are already billionaires. But here in Malaysia, we are trying to get our people to slow down when in actual fact, we haven’t worked hard enough and have to work hard to push our country to climb the development ladder.

I’m not saying that everyone should be working 996 throughout their lives, I myself wouldn’t want to do that too now. But that’s because my circumstances have changed, my priorities have changed. I now have a family, I have a son that I want to go home to play with, I want to see him everyday in the morning and at night. I have done my fair share of 996 when I was younger and still single, in fact sometimes it’s 907, i.e. 9am to 12am 7 days a week.

So I wouldn’t stop the youth to follow the 996 culture, especially if you have a target to meet or a problem that you are so passionate about to solve. Why not? No one should be stopping you as long as you don’t compromise your health and forget your parents. At the end of the day, we all must know when to switch on and when to switch off. Learn how to be physically, mentally and emotionally present. If it’s dinner time with parents, stop thinking about work and be there for them.

With that in mind, let’s have a good break and spend a wonderful time with our families today, in conjunction to Labour Day.

Happy Labour Day everyone!

Supermom Today

I decided to take a day off today to do a research on preschools for my son. I’m thinking of sending him soon as he is turning 18 months old tomorrow so that he has early exposure to other kids, creative and fun learning to stimulate his brain and curiosity.

I have to say that I’m really glad my husband and I chose Ara Damansara as the area to live. There are just so many schools for kids and they are all within 5km radius! Yesterday alone I went to 5 different schools and I realized I have 3 more schools that I haven’t checked out. Don’t think I am able to take another day off to do this mainly because my mind is fixated with this one school.

Anyway, will share my thoughts on this later as I am now fully knackered. Felt like a supermom today!


Data Trust

Stumbled upon an article on FT on New Institutions are Needed for Digital Age which mentioned that “Open Data Institute and others are exploring data trusts — where control over data-sharing is transferred to an independent third party, legally bound to ensure its use for a defined purpose”. This then led me to a report published recently by Open Data Institute on data trusts which summarizes the framework and findings from their first in-depth study on role of data trusts.

While the concept/term may not be new to us, the interest/appetite is definitely growing among government and large corporations wanting to create more value through data sharing without worrying about privacy issues. Below is the screenshot of data trust framework for your easy reference.

data trust.PNG

Their definition of data trust is independent of technology architectures – centralized or decentralized platform, cloud hosting, blockchain or not doesn’t matter – as long as it is technically flexible to our changing needs.

If you are interested, you can read more about it here and the report here.

Excerpts from Kai-Fu Lee’s Journey to AI Book

Just thought of sharing some interesting lines from Kai-Fu Lee’s Journey to AI book which I’m halfway through already. Too good I kept trying to hold one eye on my kindle and the other eye on my son while taking care of him yesterday.

  • Imagine two worlds, one with you and one without you. What’s the difference between the two worlds? Maximize that difference. That’s the meaning of your life. 
  • To live a life is to simply go with the flow, but to lead a life is to actively shape one’s own destiny.
  • Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. 
  • Success is waking up in the morning, whoever you are, wherever you are, however old or young, and bouncing out of bed because there’s something out there you love to do, that you believe in, that you are good at – something that’s bigger than you are, and you can hardly wait to get at it again today. 
  • Learning knowledge is shallow; learning the ability to analyze and solve any problem is something to be treasured for a lifetime. 
  • In science, there is no absolute right or wrong and we are all equals. Those with passion can find the best solutions.
  • As a leader, you must effectively execute what’s good for the company, and be a good judge on when to put aside your compassion and become a tough manager. 
  • It is not innovation alone that matters, but innovation that is useful. 

These are essentially life lessons that is applicable to everyone. Hope you find it useful too!

A Must Watch to Understand the Big Picture of AI


A Ted Talk by Kai-Fu Lee, the AI expert, also my new found “love” on geeks/experts which caused me to swing from my current read to his autobiography “My Journey into AI”. Read my previous post.

After you watch this video, you will understand better the importance of learning and embracing AI because AI will be embedded in our lives much more in the next 10-15 years or even 5 years depending on the level of sophistication. I feel that it needs to be in one of the syllabus of students curriculum.

Is it common to not finish reading a non-fiction book?

Ever since I started work, I’ve always preferred non-fiction books over fiction books. Surprisingly, that wasn’t the case when I was young. I enjoyed reading fiction books such as Nancy Drew and Enid Blyton. I guess it makes sense when you were young, you were just curious and didn’t mind being immersed in stories which are not real. But as I grew older, I remember since I started secondary school, all I want to read was my text books or anything that’s related to what I need to know to excel in exams. I was kiasu and nerd like that. Little did I know, I got carried away and I never turned back to fiction books since. Even more so since I started work, I cannot imagine myself reading fiction books. All the books I read have connection to my work now and in the future and of course my life as a mother (the kind of books I’ve started reading too so that I become a better mother). The bottom line is, I’ve always wanted to be better at what I do by acquiring knowledge from books.

But I’ve always had this problem of not being able to read 100% of the non-fiction books. I find that sometimes it’s too dry or that most of the time, I would have had the gist of it just by reading the first few chapters. It bugs me that I read so many books but didn’t finish reading it that early this year, I made a pact to myself to finish reading a book every quarter. You can read about my reading journey here, and here. So far I’ve done 3, well ahead of target and it felt good, like having a sense of accomplishment. Now I’m on my 4th book but been flipping in between 3 other books. It’s not easy but I try to squeeze any intermittent free time that I have every day.

Anyway, to the point of this post, is it common to not finish reading non-fiction books? I stumbled upon one of Union Square Venture’s employee’s blog, Bethany Crystaland I have a sense that she’s on the same boat as me based on her post “the business book version of Harry Potter”. Most of the time, she could only read 40-60% of a business book because she thinks business books are not telling stories the right way, unlike Harry Potter books whereby people were willing to read cover to cover all the 7 books. She thinks business books should be giving advice, which they do and in fact the reason why people like her and me choose business/non-fiction books over fiction books, but not the right way. Like I’ve said many times, you get the gist of a business book just by reading the first few chapters, the remaining chapters tend to be too detailed or it’s repetitive.

I guess it feels good to know that I’m not alone here. But nevertheless, let’s strive to finish all the books we’ve started reading ok? And by finishing I mean it’s ok to skip a few pages 😉

So tell me, is this common?