Thursday, January 28, 2010

Who knew? Today is International Privacy Day — probably not created by Hallmark. In celebration, Google decided to renew its privacy vows:

Use information to provide our users with valuable products and services.
Develop products that reflect strong privacy standards and practices.
Make the collection of personal information transparent.
Give users meaningful choices to protect their privacy.
Be a responsible steward of the information we hold.

Read in the light of my earlier post on this topic, a couple of issues jump out.
If Google wants to couch this in terms of personal information and truly wants to make the collection transparent, they’d will need to make all of their data collection transparent. All information is ultimately going to be personally identifiable — and therefore potentially private form a user’s perspective. Are they ready to do this?
“Meaningful choices” is going to be a huge challenge. First, given Moore’s Law, we don’t have a useful framework for talking about private or personal data. Second, even given a framework, teaching users about complicated and ephemeral concepts is difficult. On the plus side, we can look at Creative Commons for some guidance on how to approach education.
I would propose some necessary but (perhaps) not sufficient conditions for me to make a meaningful choice about data collection. Answer:

What data is being collected?
How long the data will be retained?
How will the data be shared?
What datasets the data will be aggregated with?
Context for how the data will be used — will it be aggregated across other data sources related to me? aggregated across other users? used to optimize services I have opted in to? to advertise to me?
Can I opt-out at a later date?
What is the impact of opting out now?

Presenting this information is going to be user-experience nightmare, but without it, informed consent is at best a polite fiction.

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