Mozilla is throwing their hat into the ‘privacy commons‘ ring. Inspired by Aza Rankin’s ‘Making Privacy Policies Not Suck‘, Mozilla is trying to think through a series of icons intended to educate users about websites’ privacy policies. This is inspirational, insofar as a large corporation is actually taking up the challenge of the privacy commons, but at the same time we’ve heard that a uniform privacy analysis system is coming before….in 1998. A working draft for the Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) was released May 19, 1998 during the still heady-times of people thinking that Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs) could secure people’s online privacy or, at least, make them aware of privacy dangers. The P3P initiative failed.
Part of the reason behind P3P’s failure was the length of its documentation (it was over 150% the length of Alice in Wonderland) and the general challenge of ‘properly’ checking for privacy compliance. Perhaps most importantly, when the P3P working group disbanded in 2007 they noted that a key reason behind their failure was “insufficient support for curent Browser implementors”. Perhaps with Mozilla behind the project, privacy increasingly being seen as space of product competition and differentiation, and a fresh set of eyes that can learn from the successes of the creative commons and other privacy initiatives, something progressive will emerge from Mozilla’s effort.
In some privacy circles there is a vision of creating a simple method of decoding privacy policies. As it stands, privacy policies ‘exist’ in a nebulous domain of legalese. Few people read these policies, and fewer still understand what they do (and do not) say. The same has traditionally been true of many copyright agreements. To assuage this issue surrounding copyright, the creative commons were created. Privacy groups are hoping to take some of the lessons from the creative commons and apply it to privacy policies.
I need to stress that this is a ‘thinking’ piece – I’ve been bothered by some of the models and diagrams used to express the ‘privacy commons’ because I think that while they’re great academic pieces, they’re nigh useless for the public at large. When I use the term ‘public at large’ and ‘useless’ what I am driving at is this: the creative commons is so good because it put together a VERY simple system that lets people quickly understand what copyright is being asserted over particular works. A privacy commons will live (or, very possibly, die) on its ease of access and use.
So, let’s think about use-value of any mode of description. The key issue with many commons approaches is that they are trying to do way too much all at once. Is there necessarily a need for a uniform commons statement, or is privacy sufficiently complicated that we adopt a medical privacy commons, a banking privacy commons, a social networking privacy commons, and so forth? Perhaps, instead of cutting the privacy cake so granularly (i.e. by market segment) we should try to boil down key principles and then offer real-language explanations for each principle’s application in particular business environments instead. This division of the commons is a topic that researchers appreciate and struggle with.
This is just a really quick thought that I wanted to toss out.
I perceive a problem associated with the digitization of public records: such digitization allows business interests to gather aggregate data on large collections of people while retaining identifiable characteristics. This allows for a phenomenal sorting potential. At the same time, we might ask, “is there anything we can, or really want to, do about this?”
I hear this a lot – ‘Chris, you have to understand that things are different now. The paradigm is shifting towards transparency, and there’s nothing wrong with that, and you’re being a pain in the ass suggesting that there is anything wrong with transparency. Do you have something to hide, or something like that?’ This particular line bothers the hell out of me, because I shouldn’t have to expose myself without giving my consent, especially when I previously enjoyed a greater degree of privacy as a consequence of obscurity and/or the costs involved with copying, sorting, and analyzing analogue records. I fail to see why I have to give up past nascent rights and expectations just because we can mine data more effectively (hell, that would have been a meaningless statement around the time that I was born…). Efficiency is not the same as superior, better, or (necessarily) wanted.
is the founder of the Creative Commons, which effectively allows for a more nuanced (and reasonable) approach to copyright – it establishes particularized rights for different audiences to use your work in different ways. The aim is to allow people to license work so that citizens can use facets of their culture to create new parts of their culture – as an example they can modify images and songs to produce something new, without their modification being labeled a copyright infringement. You’ll note that this blog is under a CC license.
Music, Mashup, and Meaning
There have been a number of particularly stunning documentaries in the past few years that attempt to grapple with the notion of copyright. Of the ones that I’ve seen, Good Copy, Bad Copy(and it’s a free download!) is likely about the best – it examines the role of mashup in music and the role of copyright as it applies to film. Mashups tend to involve taking multiple tracks of music and overlaying them in new and interesting ways – this also tends to act as a method of ‘culture jamming’, insofar as messages are playfully appropriated and modulated in ways that diverge from the cultural direction of the original works of music. As an example, you might hear a song about war with deep and potent lyrics laid atop an electronic dance beat, transforming both of the works in important and substantial ways.