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Powered by AI, Driven by People: Protecting Identities in an Increasingly Connected World

By Julia Neuman | AI

The Bridge is a series of articles exploring connections between the European tech capitals of Berlin and London supported through our partnership with London & Partners.

Berlin and London are home to cutting edge AI companies working to meet privacy demands for digital identities and online activity.

Privacy and security may not be the sexiest of topics in the tech world, but they’re certainly among the most important when it comes to thinking about our digital future. Data has become both a building block of our society and a precious resource to be harnessed, but in the wrong hands, it can create lasting, irreversible damage. 

Knowing this, we should all be asking ourselves: Who should control the sheer volume of data that many of us produce on a daily basis, how can we ensure it’s not used against us and how can we use it for greater good?

When it comes to answering these tough questions, the lines are often blurred. That’s why AI companies working in the privacy space are so vital. And the more we dig into their inner workings, the more fascinating they become. 

London and Berlin are both home to thriving AI ecosystems, with companies specifically addressing these global challenges through data-driven tech. We spoke to several companies working towards sustainable, AI-driven privacy solutions in both cities, uncovering some of their stories, motivations and direction.

Berlin: The R&D Epicenter

Germany’s rich research, development and technical landscape produces a vibrant interdisciplinary AI ecosystem. More than 200 AI companies currently generate a turnover of €0.5bn, and this number is set to rise to €2bn by 2025. Two of the region’s standout companies working on privacy solutions – Ocean Protocol and Merantix – gave us a peek at their inner workings.

Ocean Protocol

The founders of Ocean Protocol – a company pioneering decentralized data marketplaces – are no strangers to privacy and security innovation. In 2013, they founded ascribe.io to put intellectual property on the blockchain. Their pivot into data decentralization and privacy felt like a logical next step when considering the importance of the new “Data Economy.”

The current reality is that consumers can easily put blind trust in large corporations that have disproportionate access and control of their data. Ocean Protocol turns data into tradable assets, and their focus is on Data Tokens, which allow people to monetize their data. The ultimate goal is to reach a more free and open society in which data is shared transparently and fairly. 

“A small handful of organizations with both massive data assets and AI capabilities attained worrying levels of control, which is a danger to a free and open society,” said Sarah-Jean Vallon of Ocean Protocol. “We see a world where data is an asset that gives people more control and power in a Data Economy. Individuals can share their data transparently and receive compensation. Companies and researchers can connect to build AI tools, driven by data.”

Ocean Protocol has launched a podcast on the subject called the Voices of Data Economy and is continuing to expand presence of its Ocean Marketplaces.

Merantix

Merantix was founded as the world’s first venture studio for AI, which makes it uniquely positioned to build startups that transfer key AI research into applications in the economy. 

Over 65 scientists, technologists and founders on the team are working on pressing challenges that can potentially be solved using AI. 

“The main frontiers in privacy-preserving technology comprise either zero trust (often encryption-based models) or privacy-by-design approaches, where the initial concept for data collection mechanisms, user interaction surfaces or development environments is designed to be privacy-first to avoid painful compromises further down the road,” says Merantix Entrepreneur-in-Residence Charis Christofi.

Nicole Büttner, co-founder and CEO at Merantix Labs, stresses that the challenge with protecting personal identities isn’t just solved by hiding identifying information. Companies have to go deeper to prevent identity inferences from being made by combining various sources of data. 

“Privacy preservation does not mean simply removing a column that is a personal identifier, but instead making sure that you cannot infer this personal identity through combining with other publicly available data sources,” she says. 

“At Merantix, we are working on launching a new venture in the consumer privacy space, specifically aimed at addressing transparency for end consumers of online content. We aim to do this by operating on a number of different data sources in the public domain.”

More companies to watch in Berlin: Brighter AI, KIProtect, Fraugster, AVA

London: The Cybersecurity Giant

In addition to being home to four of the world’s top 50 universities, London attracts some of the world’s top cybersecurity experts and companies. This ecosystem gives startup newcomers a strong network for attracting clients, talent and functional knowledge. Here, we highlight a couple companies that are pushing boundaries in cybersecurity and online harassment: Keyless and Astroscreen.

Keyless

The growing demand for seamless, multi-factor authentication and privacy-first solutions is what drives Keyless’ team of 30 software engineers, machine learning and cybersecurity experts to create pioneering biometric solutions. 

“We see biometrics playing a major role in disrupting the authentication and digital identity landscape over the next decade, and AI specifically allows us to leverage that,” says Fabian Eberle, Keyless Co-founder and COO. 

“With behavioral biometrics, Keyless learns how users interact with their devices over time. This allows us to add another authentication factor that is invisible to the user, and that can’t be easily mimicked, faked or phished.”

Eberle and Keyless harness AI for its potential to usher us into a new digital era where privacy, security and convenience exist harmoniously. The company has recently signed its first commercial contract to work with Cisco Webex and plans to continue scaling with additional partners in London and beyond. 

Astroscreen

Online harassment and the spread of disinformation are two hot-button topics in digital cybersecurity. As more ideas originate online, and increasing amounts of activity are carried out in the digital sphere, protection against malicious attacks becomes paramount.

Astroscreen is using AI to allow people to filter out harmful abuse on social media.

“We developed a social media moderation tool based on AI, which allows people to easily remove different types of harassment and abuse,” says Juan Echeverría, Co-founder at Astroscreen. “This results in better control of their social media feeds, interactions and overall experience.”

The company is currently focusing on its consumer product to make the internet a safer place – especially for people with large online presences (influencers, politicians, journalists, etc.) Astroscreen will move forward using its advanced AI filtering technology, and also utilize its extensive R&D which has guided brands and companies on this difficult yet important topic.

More companies to watch in London: AnotherDay, IDLabs

The AI link

AI-driven startups are currently producing some of the most important applications for the future of cybersecurity and digital privacy. With both Berlin and London as supportive startup hubs for startups, major economic centers and R&D hotspots, the two cities are key drivers of AI innovation in Europe. 

Let’s keep up the conversation about AI in Berlin and London. Which companies are doing fascinating work in harnessing the power of AI? Be sure to let us know!