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Contests for Privacy Prizes Are Announced in the US and the UK to Tackle Financial Crime and Public Health Crises


Today, the UK and US governments launched a set of prize challenges to unleash the potential of privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs) to combat global societal challenges. Announced at the Summit for Democracy last year, innovators from academia, industry and the broader public will have the opportunity to participate in up to two separate tracks (improving detection of financial crime and forecasting an individual’s risk of infection during a pandemic) as well as the option to design one generalized solution that works for both scenarios for broader applicability.

Competing for cash prizes from a combined UK-US prize pool of $1.6 million (£1.3 million), innovators will develop privacy-preserving federated learning solutions that enable artificial intelligence models to be trained on sensitive data without organizations having to reveal, share, or combine their raw data. Winning challenge solutions will be showcased at the second Summit for Democracy, which President Biden plans to convene in the first half of 2023.

The first track – aimed at transforming financial crime prevention – will spur technological innovation to tackle the challenge of international money laundering. According to United Nations (UN) estimates, money laundering costs up to $2 trillion each year, undermining economic prosperity and financing organized crime. PETs can be harnessed to facilitate privacy-preserving financial information sharing and collaborative analytics, allowing anomalous payments to be identified without compromising the privacy of individuals.

Innovators will work with synthetic global transaction data created by SWIFT, the global provider of secure financial messaging services. Registered challenge participants will receive access to data that is realistic, but artificial, and therefore does not run the risk of revealing private information.

To provide regulatory context important for understanding the potential of these maturing technologies to counter illicit financial activity, the prize challenges will provide opportunities for innovators to engage with regulators on both sides of the Atlantic, including the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), and the U.S. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). Innovators will also engage with the UK National Economic Crime Centre.

The second track of the challenges – aimed at bolstering pandemic response capabilities – will strengthen global readiness for ongoing and future public health emergencies by developing privacy-preserving solutions that can forecast an individual’s risk of infection. Innovators will have access to a synthetic dataset created by the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute, which represents a digital twin of a regional population. As with the financial dataset, the pandemic response dataset is synthetic and will not reveal private information. Challenge participants will be able to engage with staff from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), NHS England, and the UK Research and Innovation DARE UK (Data and Analytics Research Environments UK) program.