Tareq Ismail
Aug 28 · 3 min read

As a society, we’re now discussing the role of technology in our lives more than ever. How much information should tech companies have on you? Can social networks influence elections? Are laws, like GDPR, effective to protect privacy and choice? Should parents limit Screen Time for their kids?

These are needed discussions.

I do find, however, when talking about these complex and nuanced conversations, missteps get far more attention than the positive steps forward. And so, that is why, I think projects like Microsoft Presidio need their moment in the spotlight.

What Presidio does

Microsoft’s ambitious open source project, Presidio, promotes privacy by design.

Presidio is a code library that Engineers can use in their software to process information and tag anything that can be used to personally identify (PII) someone. That PII data that is tagged can then be removed before anyone has the opportunity to see it. In practice, a lot of software companies need to store information that happens to have PII data in data warehouses or within analytics without actually needing the PII. That PII information, if compromised, can then be used by others for malicious reasons.

Here’s an example, from their Github page, of what Microsoft Presidio can intelligently do with text.

Presidio takes out all personal information automatically.
Presidio takes out all personal information automatically.
In this example, Presidio tags all the personal information and lets creators decide what to keep and what to hide.

It’s not only text, Presidio can also directly edit images too by blocking out information that’s potentially personal.

In this example, Presidio takes out all the personal information directly from an image by doing complex analysis on where the words are and how to edit the image properly.

Presidio is complex code that uses artificial intelligence and natural language processing that is thoughtfully designed for use by engineers. And did I mention it’s free? If you’re an engineer, you can start using this now.

Privacy by Design

Software tools like Presidio promote privacy by design. By processing out personal information programmatically, it can stop the wrong people, or really anyone, from ever seeing personally identifiable information at the source.

Is it perfect? No. Will it stop all bad actors? No. Will we need solutions like these and many others like it to improve the spot we’re in? Yes. That’s what gets me so excited. Presidio could start a movement and encourage others to follow — if it’s properly recognized as something valuable.

Positive Reinforcement

Projects like Microsoft Presidio need to be celebrated if we want change. Yes, companies need criticism, advice, and rejection from consumers when they do wrong things but they also need positive reinforcement when they do the right things.

Is Presidio something you even knew existed? Is it something that came on the news? Microsoft isn’t a perfect company but it is dedicating time, resources, and care to do something meaningfully better for people.

It should be shared and celebrated. It should be reinforced so others company follow too. Presidio is a step that I hope we look back on and say it was one of many that started a march.

Tareq Ismail

Written by

Principal Designer @ Amplitude

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