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Transatlantic PET contest open for entries

A joint UK-US innovation prize challenge for developers of privacy-enhancing technologies has opened for entries

A competition to uncover innovative privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs) to tackle financial crime and public health emergencies has finally opened to entries.

Sponsored by the UK and US governments, and first announced at a summit last year, the contest is open to innovators from academia, industry and even the broader public, and offers the opportunity to participate in one or both of the two separate tracks, or design a generalised offering that has broader applicability across both.

A combined prize pool of $1.6m (£1.3m) will be available to help innovators develop federated learning services that train artificial intelligence models on sensitive data sets without organisations having to reveal, share or combine the data. The winning services will be showcased at US president Joe Biden’s second Summit for Democracy in 2023.

“These prize challenges will catalyse talent and ingenuity on both sides of the Atlantic to advance privacy-enhancing technology solutions and enable their potential to tackle global challenges like those of cross-border financial crime and pandemic response,” said Alondra Nelson, head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

“This important initiative reflects our common purpose of developing technologies and driving innovation in a manner that reinforces our commitment to and expression of democratic values and the fundamental right to privacy.”

UK information commissioner John Edwards added: “Bringing the Information Commissioner’s Office into the start of these prize challenges ensures peoples’ privacy and trust are at the heart of the design process. People can have confidence in the power of personal data to save lives and stop financial crime.”

“Privacy-enhancing technologies allow for great innovation when used in the right way. We’re looking forward to supporting these solutions and the final outcomes that will ultimately help the public.”

Read more about PETs

The financial crime prevention track will supposedly “spur technological innovation” to tackle international money laundering, which the United Nations (UN) reckons costs society up to $2tn per annum.

PETs could be used in this area in the service of aiding privacy-preserving information sharing and collaborative analytics, to identify anomalous payments without compromising individual privacy.

On this track, innovators will be given access to artificial transaction data made up for them by global financial messaging provider Swift to design their models. To provide regulatory context, they will also be able to link up with the Financial Conduct Authority, the Information Commissioner’s Office and the National Economic Crime Centre in the UK, as well as the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network in the US.

The second track is aimed at bolstering responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, and potential future pandemics, using data to strengthen global readiness by developing privacy-preserving services that can forecast an individual’s infection risk.

Innovators on this track will again get access to “fake” data, in this case generated by the Biocomplexity Institute of the University of Virginia, which will represent a digital twin of a regional population.

Additional engagement will come from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the US and in the UK, NHS England, and UK Research and Innovation’s Data and Analytics Research Environments programme.

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