Carmela Troncoso: named one of 2020s global top young tech leaders

© 2020 Fortune Media

© 2020 Fortune Media

Carmela Troncoso, head of the Security and Privacy Engineering Lab (SPRING) in EPFL’s School of Computer and Communication Sciences (IC), helped lead the push to build the Decentralized Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing system (DP-3T), now used in COVID-19 tracing apps around the world. She’s just joined the ranks of Fortune Magazine’s prestigious 40 Under 40. 

“Data is the new oil and, just like with oil, in the past year we have seen a decay in the data revolution because of all the problems arising from data driven technologies.” That’s a recent reflection from Carmela in a year of monumental change, a year in which humanity has faced its biggest challenge so far this century – the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As a result, for much of 2020 Carmela has led the development of DP-3T, a proximity-tracing protocol in which data is stored on individual mobile phones, rather than centrally, which is considered a better guarantee of personal privacy. The protocol has made its way into the operating systems iOS and Android, and is the basis for SwissCovid. Earlier this year she told the magazine Schweizer Illustrierte that, “the technological and social challenges [around the protection of privacy in IT systems] give me sleepless nights."

Carmela’s pioneering work on building secure and privacy-preserving systems, and its impact on the operating systems running on billions of phones worldwide, has brought her to the attention of the prestigious magazine Fortune that, for the past two decades, has published its annual 40 Under 40 list, naming those aged 40 and under that it considers to be the most influential young leaders for the year. 

This year, to reflect the transformation of the world, and to feature the people doing much of the work that has been critical in the face of a global pandemic, Fortune moved away from one, single list, instead highlighting its top 40 influential people in five categories: finance, technology, healthcare, government and politics, and media and entertainment.

Carmela hopes to use the platform that being on Fortune’s 40 Under 40 will bring to continue to highlight her lab’s work on mitigating the impacts of technology on society, whether these are deliberate or unintended. 

And, she believes the uptake of DP-3T in COVID-19 tracing apps, and her inclusion on the list, already mark an important turning point, “when the pandemic came, the solutions that helped people continue to have personal and professional lives were not data-driven. They were systems like Zoom, Whatsapp, Netflix and other similar platforms. The SwissCovid tracing app is also purely a systems solution, it has no data. For the first time we have governments that have gone for data-less solutions and the fact that Fortune has recognized this paradigm change is key for privacy.”