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Privacy & Transparency, Part 1 of 3

. wandereye

Research the concept of "privacy," and you end up with a boat-load of interpretation and legal regulation issues, especially when the United States is concerned. Only recently did Google and Facebook as well as Sears were snared in the web, adding fire to an already boiling public issue. Namely, this is related to what "futurists" and others have called "convergence," which has continued to infringe upon foundational ideas of what privacy means to us today and what it will mean in the near future.

"Privacy" is sometimes regarded as untranslatable by linguists... (in Russian, privacy encompasses several words: уединение - solitude, секретность - secrecy, and частная жизнь - private life)... The term "privacy" means many things indifferent contexts. Different people, cultures, and nations have a wide variety of expectations about how much privacy a person is entitled to or what constitutes an invasion of privacy. (link)

In a most general sense, privacy world-wide is looked at as a human right (to "democratic" nations) that fosters development of self and community, enables artistic creativity and intellectual evolution, and gives us all a relative feeling of security and safety from "outside" forces (like the government or corporations).

There are many forms of privacy, broken down into context-related vernaculars like physical privacy, informational privacy, medical privacy, political privacy and so on. All of these take into account the relative positioning of an individual or group relative to an organization, institution, process, community or person.

Before the information explosion, we relied on cost as the primary protection of privacy: it was too expensive for anyone (except maybe the government) to assemble, store, cross-index and correlate the information.(link)

"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." — United Nations Declaration of Human Rights

Internet privacy is the ability to control what information one reveals about oneself over the Internet, and to control who can access that information. These concerns include whether email can be stored or read by third parties without consent, or whether third parties can track the websites someone has visited. Another concern is whether websites collect, store, and possibly share personally identifiable information about users.(link) The FTC is getting heavily involved with Facebook and Google at the level of not just access, security and control (which I will speak to in the next post about "Transparency"). This goes beyond cookies, beacons, spiders and privacy policies.

It currently resides in places like my google dashboard (images), where I have been provided with ways to see and sort of edit or "clear" my personal search and browse history.

Facebook provided many call-outs pointing out their new "features" and "privacy policies" allowing me to control my privacy preferences for over 600 connections.

Too much control leads to less privacy in the end for reasons witnessed throughout history, which is why there are comissions and governments seeing the dangers of this new world so clearly at the moment.

"The real danger is the gradual erosion of individual liberties through the automation, integration, and interconnection of many small, separate record-keeping systems, each of which alone may seem innocuous, even benevolent, and wholly justifiable." — U.S. Privacy Protection Study Commission, 1977

Anyone old enough to have witnessed the birth of the fax machine or "PIN" numbers on their "ATM Cards", the many lawsuits pioneers like AOL and Compuserve went through, SPAM knows that privacy cannot be protected by technology alone. The same holds true for anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the Patriot Act, The Fourth Amendment, or has seen the movie The Conversation, read Cryptonomicon, Snow Crash, or is a contributing member of 2600. Privacy rests solely on the "social norms" of the people who will be using the information that they can access.

In the next part of this series I will dive into examples of tactics and strategies employed currently by corporations and organizations with a particular focus on what I see as a promising leader. Transparency, when applied with consideration and human participation on a global scale, can allow for security and free speech at the same time. Transparency can work in harmony ... (sing along with me) with privacy.


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