Technology, Thoughts & Trinkets

Touring the digital through type

Tag: personal data privacy

Thinking About a ‘Privacy Commons’

unclesamsurveillanceIn 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.

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Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt and Google Corporation

FUDGoogleIn recent months more and more attention has been directed towards Google’s data retention policies. In May of 2007 Peter Fleishcher of Google’s global privacy counsel established three key reasons for why his company had to maintain search records:

  1. To improve their services. Specifically, he writes “Search companies like Google are constantly trying to improve the quality of their search services. Analyzing logs data is an important tool to help our engineers refine search quality and build helpful new services . . . The ability of a search company to continue to improve its services is essential, and represents a normal and expected use of such data.”
  2. To maintain security and prevent fraud and abuse. “Data protection laws around the world require Internet companies to maintain adequate security measures to protect the personal data of their users. Immediate deletion of IP addresses from our logs would make our systems more vulnerable to security attacks, putting the personal data of our users at greater risk. Historical logs information can also be a useful tool to help us detect and prevent phishing, scripting attacks, and spam, including query click spam and ads click spam.”
  3. To comply with legal obligations to retrieve data. “Search companies like Google are also subject to laws that sometimes conflict with data protection regulations, like data retention for law enforcement purposes.” (Source)

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