Technology, Thoughts & Trinkets

Touring the digital through type

Month: September 2010

Forthcoming Talk at Social Media Club Vancouver

Head-On-VancouverI’ve been invited to talk to Vancouver’s vibrant Social Media Club on October 7! I’m thrilled to be presenting, and will be giving a related (though very different) talk from the one a few days earlier at Social Media Camp Victoria. Instead of making traffic analysis a focus, I’ll be speaking more broadly of what I’ll be referring to as a ‘malaise of privacy’. This general discomfort of moving around online is (I will suggest) significantly related to the opaque privacy laws and protections that supposedly secure individuals’ privacy online as contrasted against the daily reality of identity theft, data breaches, and so forth. The thrust will be to provide those in attendance with the theoretical background to develop their own ethic(s) of privacy to make legal privacy statements more accessible and understandable.

See below for the full abstract:

Supplementing Privacy Policies with a Privacy Ethic

Social media platforms are increasingly common (and often cognitively invisible) facets of Western citizens’ lives; we post photos to Facebook and Flickr, engage in conversations on Orkut and Twitter, and relax by playing games on Zynga and Blizzard infrastructures. The shift to the Internet as a platform for mass real-time socialization and service provision demands a tremendous amount of trust on the part of citizens, and research indicates that citizens are increasingly concerned about whether their trust is well placed. Analytics, behavioural advertising, identity theft, and data mismanagements strain the public’s belief that digital systems are ‘privacy neutral’ whilst remaining worried about technological determinisms purported to drive socialized infrastructures.

For this presentation, I begin by briefly reviewing the continuum of the social web, touching on the movement from Web 1.0 to 2.0, and the future as ‘Web Squared’. Next, I address the development of various data policy instruments intended to protect citizens’ privacy online and that facilitate citizens’ trust towards social media environments requiring personal information as the ‘cost of entry’. Drawing on academic and popular literature, I suggest that individuals participating in social media environments care deeply about their privacy and distrust (and dislike) the ubiquity of online surveillance, especially in the spaces they communicate and play. Daily experiences with data protection – often manifest in the form of privacy statements and policies – are seen as unapproachable, awkward, and obtuse by most social media users. Privacy statements and their oft-associated surveillance infrastructures contributes to a broader social malaise surrounding the effectiveness of formal data protection and privacy laws.

Given the presence of this malaise, and potential inability of contemporary data protection laws to secure individuals’ privacy, what can be done? I suggest that those involved in social media are well advised to develop an ethic of privacy to supplement legally required privacy statements. By adopting clear statements of ethics, supplemented with legal language and opt-in data disclosures of personal information, operators of social media environments can be part of the solution to society’s privacy malaise. Rather than outlining an ethic myself, I provide the building blocks for those attending to establish their own ethic. I do this by identifying dominant theoretical approaches to privacy: privacy as a matter of control, as an individual vs community vs hybrid issue, as an issue of knowledge and agency, and as a question of contextual data flows. With an understanding of these concepts, those attending will be well suited to supplement their privacy statements and policies with a nuanced and substantive ethics of privacy.

Forthcoming Talk at Social Media Camp Victoria

Social-Media-LandscapeOn October 3 I’ll be presenting at Social Media Camp Victoria with Kris Constable about a few risks to privacy associated with social media. Kris is a leading Canadian privacy advocate and expert in information security and the operator of PrivaSecTec.

I’ll be talking about the use of traffic analysis and data mining practices that can be used to engage in massive surveillance of social networking environments and the value of drawing links between users rather than investigating the content of communications. The argumentative ‘thrust’ is that freedoms of expression and association may offer a approach to secure privacy in the face of weakened search laws. The full abstract can be read below.

Abstract:

Citizens are increasingly moving their communications and forms of expression onto social media environments that encourage both public and private collaborative efforts. Through social media, individuals can reaffirm existing relationships, give birth to new and novel communities and community-types, and establish the classical political advocacy groups that impact government decisions and processes. In coming together online for their various reasons, citizens expect that their capacity to engage with one another should, and in some respect does, parallel their expectations of privacy in the analogue world.

In this presentation, I first outline expectations and realities of privacy on and offline, with an emphasis on data traffic (i.e. non-content) analysis born from Signal Intelligence (SIGINT), and SIGINT’s use in civilian governmental practices. I then proceed to outline, in brief, how social media generally can be used to identify associations and a few reasons why such associations can undermine the communicative privacy expected and needed for the long-term survival of vibrant constitutional democracies. Rather than ending on a note of doom and gloom, however, I suggest a novel way of approaching privacy-related problems stemming from massive traffic data analysis in social media networks. While the language of freedom from unjustified searches is often used to resist traffic analysis, I draw from recent privacy scholarship to suggest that freedom of expression and association offers a novel (and possibly superior) approach to defending privacy interests in social media from SIGINT-based surveillance.

Data Retention, Protection, and Privacy

Data retention is always a sensitive issue; what is retained, for how long, under what conditions, and who can access the data? Recently, Ireland’s Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the government and telecommunications providers was leaked, providing members of the public with a non-redacted view of what these MoU’s look like and how they integrate with the European data retention directive. In this post, I want to give a quick primer on the EU data retention directive, identify some key elements of Ireland’s MoU and the Article 29 Data Protection Working Group’s evaluation of the directive more generally. Finally, I’ll offer a few comments concerning data protection versus privacy protection and use the EU data protection directive as an example. The aim of this post is to identify a few deficiencies in both data retention and data protection laws and argue that  privacy advocates and government officials to defend privacy first, approaching data protection as a tool rather than an end-in-itself.

A Quick Primer on EU Data Retention

In Europe, Directive 2006/24/EC (the Data Retention Directive, or DRD) required member-nations to pass legislation mandating retention of particular telecommunications data. Law enforcement sees retained data as useful for public safety reasons. A community-level effort was required to facilitate harmonized data retention; differences in members’ national laws meant that the EU was unlikely to have broadly compatible cross-national retention standards. As we will see, this concern remains well after the Directive’s passage. Continue reading