Some thoughts on privacy. Part 0

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about privacy.

My own work focuses on what we can learn from dense data collected by volunteers at my university (DTU), and that means that privacy is something I think about a lot. What we’re learning from our amazing dataset shows that data channels are highly overlapping and even something like which WiFi access points your phone sees (sounds innocuous, right?) reveals pretty much everything about both your movement around in space as well as your social connections.

Because or our findings, I am concerned, for example, by the City of Copenhagen’s decision to monitor everyone in the city using WiFi routers. It’s not trivial to me that it is OK for the city to perform this kind of monitoring. More generally, the further we move into a future, where we haven’t set down simple ground rules for what’s OK and what is not OK, the more difficult it will be to find our way again.

Overall, however, I think sharing data is a great idea and usually data-sharing is a win-win proposition. But we have to make sure that we have rules that ensures the right balance of power between individuals and the entities that use their data.

Inspired by Clive Thompson’s thoughts on public thinking, I’ve decided to write a few posts about privacy and data on this blog even though I haven’t really figured out what to think about all aspects of the topic yet.

Thus, in the coming weeks (probably months, knowing my tendency to procrastinate), I’ll be writing about privacy here. A tentative outline of the series is:

  • Part I: Why everyone is complaining, but no one is taking action.
  • Part II: Some examples of why privacy is important.
  • Part III: Why technical solutions will not work.
  • Part IV: Suggestion for simple rules for data.
  • Part V: Sharing and electronic traces present an even deeper problem. I’ll present a sketch of a solution.
  • Part VI: Why all this does not mean you should not share your data. It’s generally a great idea to share with data both corporations and governments. Maybe also something about why companies with reasonable data policies will have a competitive advantage.

3 responses to “Some thoughts on privacy. Part 0”

  1. […] When I started working on understanding social systems, privacy really wasn’t on my mind. (I generally want to write down equations, understand the universe and all that). But one of the central realizations arising from our SensibleDTU experiment is that privacy needs to be an important part of this kind of research. I’ve written about this at length elsewhere. […]

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