Marc Rotenberg leads panel discussion on the future of privacy policies, education

30 04 2010
Annie Anton

Annie Anton discusses privacy and applications at the FutureWeb conference, part of WWW2010 in Raleigh.

Marc Rotenberg, of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), led an interactive session this afternoon on the future of privacy and the Web. Panelists included Dave Hoffman of Intel, Anne Klinefelter of the UNC School of Law, Jolynn Dellinger of Data Privacy Day, Annie Anton of NC State and Woodrow Hartzog of UNC’s School of Mass Communication.

Rotenberg, of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), led a lively and interactive session at FutureWeb on the future of privacy and the Web that touched on many aspects but mostly focused on social media and cloud computing.

Klinefelter addressed some policy issues from an educational standpoint. She said that readers’ privacy has long been a concern of librarians, but it is a problem that has been amplified online. Since books have gone digital with the invention of E-readers and tablets, people’s uses of content can be tracked and the information is not solely personal anymore.

“Some of the privacy settings can be surprising,” she said. “What’s really surprising is the way your data about your reading habits are being shared. You need to think about the way your data is being used. If it’s for commercial or governmental purposes you are being disempowered.”

Klinefelter said Internet users should band together to protest, in order to achieve privacy settings on all personal online content. Without the implementation of fair and open policies, the consequences can include identity theft, access to financial records and the compromising of health records.

Marc Rotenberg

Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, leads expert panelists through a lively discussion of privacy issues.

The panelists discussed how social media can expose many layers of information people once kept private. Rotenberg asked audience members if they think employers have the right to look at political candidates’ Facebook pages. The majority of people raised their hands said they did not agree.

One audience member noted that a lot of the information on Facebook, such as that about religion, political opinion and sexuality, would not be legal to ask about during a formal job interview.

Antón, co-founder and director of ThePrivacyPlace.org, said most people have a reasonable expectation of privacy but don’t realize they have to set up specific privacy settings on Facebook to achieve that expectation. And age doesn’t matter, she said. “I don’t think this is a generational issue,” Antón said. “Some people know and some people don’t.”

Antón addressed further challenges of online privacy rights, including expectations of privacy on social networks. “A lot of people have a reasonable expectation of privacy but don’t understand they have to participate in setting things up so they can have that expectation of privacy,” she said.

There is a large percentage of the population that remains uninformed about privacy issues, though Anton doesn’t view it as a generational glitch. “Some people know, some people don’t – it’s as simple as that,” she said.

How do we express privacy policies more effectively? Antón said society needs to address issues such as Australia’s censorship controversy and consider how to balance privacy rights with national security and free speech.

Jolynn Dellinger of Data Privacy Day discusses a point about privacy education at the FutureWeb conference at WWW2010 in Raleigh.

Dellinger, of Data Privacy Day, spoke about the challenges to informing the general public about privacy rights.

“I’ve seen a disconnect between common knowledge and technology,” she said. “I think it’s fair to say a lot of people using Google and Facebook have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes, much less having real knowledge that will help them make informed decisions.”

Dellinger’s work related to Data Privacy Day tries to take education and put it into the hands of people to help with individual privacy practice. She said education is essential because it’s impossible to actively participate without an informed voice, adding that she hopes more tools on privacy education will be available in the future.

“There are people in big corporation that do care about privacy,” she said. “It’s trying to get those materials in the hands of people who can use them (such as educators).”

Woodrow Hartzog, formerly a clerk with the Electronic Privacy Information Center, spoke about privacy as “an umbrella term,” encompassing two issues: obscurity and confidentiality. There is a certain value that lies in obscurity that is only going to increase, he said.

Woodrow Hartzog says privacy is an umbrella term for "obscurity and confidentiality."

He compared the explosion of online content to the urbanization of cities, which allows people to become somewhat lost in the crowd.

“With this explosion of content on the Web we’ve moved to a place now where the Web is not just broadcast,” he said. “Now it’s this never-ending series of back alleys and there are invisible parts of the Web that do not show up in search engines.”

Hartzog noted that people can find ways to hide their blogs from search-engine results, and they can refrain from the real-time conversation, which is also more searchable today, with some content like that of Twitter being exposed even in a Google search. He said people should not be shy about requesting more confidentiality when they want it online.

The transparency of companies in confidentiality agreements is crucial when thinking about the future of privacy, he said.

David Hoffman of Intel concentrated his remarks on cloud computing and continued the discussion on privacy’s future by referencing the past. “I think cloud computing is somewhat like how we’ve been physically reaching the clouds (through commercial air travel) for the past 50 years,” he said. He noted that this aspect of human sharing – by storing information in remote databanks – “in the cloud” instead of on a local hard drive – is nothing new. But mass adoption of the cloud for storage of vast amounts of people’s most personal information is.

Our culture has developed to the point where we have a substantial reliance upon technology, along with a need to trust this technology – we trust it to be available and functional, to possess a certain measure of security assurance and trust that privacy will be respected, he said.

Hoffman said he is unsure of whether we are doing a satisfactory job of meeting these privacy expectations. “We’re heading to a global digital infrastructure,” he said. He described the key problems can that arise online include the fact that private information can be stolen or hacked and that the information stored in the cloud can be lost.

“We are now relying upon the cloud to such a degree that threats we don’t know about can create harm,” he said. “We trust it to be available, functional. We have a need to trust that our privacy will be respected.”

Hoffman noted that policy should be changed to compensate for new interactive technologies that allow for increased violation of privacy.

Klinefelter agreed that privacy laws need to have a second look.

“I would like the legislation – to have more an opt-in than an opt-out,” form of online privacy she said.

Antón said laws should changed to be compliant with software that can protect privacy, and Hartzog said he hopes to see revision in surveillance law.

- By Ashley Dischinger and Laura Smith

ADDITIONAL DETAILS FROM THIS EVENT…

Video and more written FutureWeb coverage: http://bit.ly/imaginingtheinternet
FutureWeb YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/Futureweb2010#p/u
Flickr photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/38539612@N02/sets/72157623891937652/

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