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The Great Data Debate

Brian Baglow


TEDxGlasgow The Great Data Debate

The gloves came off in a lively, passionate and wide-ranging debate on personal data at TEDx Glasgow last week.

“This house believes that Cambridge Analytica were a lovely bunch of lads and didn’t really do anything wrong…”

As part of the hugely impressive TEDxGlasgow event, The Data Lab organised The Great Data Debate around some of the more contentious recent issues surrounding the use of data. Pulling in experts from industry and academia – including your editor – the debate was deliberately designed to be provocative, engaging and fun.

Data, Data Everywhere…

Expertly chaired by Data Lab CEO (and former TEDxGlasgow speaker) Gillian Docherty, the debate covered three hot topics:

  1. Cambridge Analytica had the right to use your data
  2. When you enjoy a free service, you and your data are the commodity and the company can do what they like with it
  3. GDPR has no hope of delivering a new data culture of privacy and security by design and default

Rather than stick to the traditional panel discussion in which four participants all agree with one another and drama is kept to a minimum, the debate was structured in a similar way to academic debates, with two opposing sides, arguing for and against the above statements.

Introducing the session, Gillian explained that the debate was supposed to provocative and that the participants were given their position by the organisers, so as such, none of the opinions expressed should be taken as the speaker’s personal views (or those of their employer).

The debaters for the NO side were:

On the YES side, we had:

Open and Honest Debate

While the emphasis of the debate was on the entertaining aspects of privacy and data, the format encouraged rapid-fire discussion and enabled a lot of topics, which would normally have been ignored or side-lined to be picked up and discussed.

As an example, the fact that the data used by Cambridge Analytica was not the result of a hack, or a data breach. It was harvested by an app on Facebook, which at the time it took place, complied fully with the network’s terms and conditions, just as tens of thousands of developers of other apps were doing.

Down With This Sort of Thing!

Similarly, the basic assumption that GDPR is a positive step in the right direction was questioned, with speakers on the YES side, asking whether any regulation created by an institution as colossal as the EU has a hope of keeping pace with the rapidly evolving technology it is trying to police. The resources of the ICO and organisations which are tasked with policing the regulation was also questioned, as well as the impact on the economy once the regulation is policed.

Unlike normal panel discussions, audience input and participation was encouraged – and encouragingly enthusiastic. Audience members weighed in on all of the discussion topics, offering counterpoints, examples of their own, actual facts and research – and a healthy variety of lawyer jokes.

Careful Now!

As an alternative to the usual, insipid panel discussions, the debate brought incredible energy and engagement to the normally difficult mid-afternoon period of an event.As well as the format, the topics and audience interaction created a far more dynamic and open forum, in which everyone in the room was able to join in.

While response to both sides from the audience was enthusiastic when it came to picking the winning side, the YES side very clearly walked it. There’s no debate to be had (according to your editor, other opinions may vary).

Callum Sinclair, told DIGIT: “It was great fun to be a protagonist at the TEDxGlasgow Great Data Debate, and the audience reaction (both on the day and since) has been really positive.

“Amidst the wild speculation, pantomime villainy and lawyer jokes, there were even some serious points made… Seriously, an engaging format which made for a refreshing alternative to a conference panel, and very much lived up to the Ideas Worth Sharing TED mantra!”

Liberty Vittert agreed: “My most favourite panel that I’ve ever been on and one where the audience was assuredly armed with more facts than the panel… next time I can’t wait to sit in the audience!!”

Gillian Docherty summed up the whole event, saying: “It was great to try out a new format with some fantastically willing debaters who really got into the spirit and ensured a lively, entertaining and insightful session.

“The audience also contributed greatly and got engaged in the debate with their own style and humour.  Yet again TEDx Glasgow allowed us the opportunity to debate ideas worth sharing!”

Movers and shakers

Brian Baglow


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