Книга: Code 2.0

Control of Data

Control of Data

The problem of controlling the spread or misuse of data is more complex and ambiguous. There are uses of personal data that many would object to. But many is not all. There are some who are perfectly happy to reveal certain data to certain entities, and there are many more who would become happy if they could trust that their data was properly used.

Here again, the solution mixes modalities. But this time, we begin with the technology[40].

As I described extensively in Chapter 4, there is an emerging push to build an Identity Layer onto the Internet. In my view, we should view this Identity Layer as a PET ( private enhancing technology): It would enable individuals to more effectively control the data about them that they reveal. It would also enable individuals to have a trustable pseudonymous identity that websites and others should be happy to accept. Thus, with this technology, if a site needs to know I am over 18, or an American citizen, or authorized to access a university library, the technology can certify this data without revealing anything else. Of all the changes to information practices that we could imagine, this would be the most significant in reducing the extent of redundant or unnecessary data flowing in the ether of the network.

A second PET to enable greater control over the use of data would be a protocol called the Platform for Privacy Preferences (or P3P for short)[41]. P3P would enable a machine-readable expression of the privacy preferences of an individual. It would enable an automatic way for an individual to recognize when a site does not comply with his privacy preferences. If you surf to a site that expresses its privacy policy using P3P, and its policy is inconsistent with your preferences, then depending upon the implementation, either the site or you are made aware of the problem created by this conflict. The technology thus could make clear a conflict in preferences. And recognizing that conflict is the first step to protecting preferences.

The critical part of this strategy is to make these choices machine-readable. If you Google “privacy policy”, you’ll get close to 2.5 billion hits on the Web. And if you click through to the vast majority of them (not that you could do that in this lifetime), you will find that they are among the most incomprehensible legal texts around (and that’s saying a lot). These policies are the product of pre-Internet thinking about how to deal with a policy problem. The government was pushed to “solve” the problem of Internet privacy. Its solution was to require “privacy policies” be posted everywhere. But does anybody read these policies? And if they do, do they remember them from one site to another? Do you know the difference between Amazon’s policies and Google’s?

The mistake of the government was in not requiring that those policies also be understandable by a computer. Because if we had 2.5 billion sites with both a human readable and machine readable statement of privacy policies, then we would have the infrastructure necessary to encourage the development of this PET, P3P. But because the government could not think beyond its traditional manner of legislating — because it didn’t think to require changes in code as well as legal texts — we don’t have that infrastructure now. But, in my view, it is critical.

These technologies standing alone, however, do nothing to solve the problem of privacy on the Net. It is absolutely clear that to complement these technologies, we need legal regulation. But this regulation is of three very different sorts. The first kind is substantive — laws that set the boundaries of privacy protection. The second kind is procedural — laws that mandate fair procedures for dealing with privacy practices. And the third is enabling — laws that make enforceable agreements between individuals and corporations about how privacy is to be respected.

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