Autonomy, Privacy, The Symbiotic Web


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Presentation from UCC CCJHR 2009

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  • This is why human rights should extend to what happens on the internet
  • The question is WHY is this happening? Is there something underlying all of this.
  • The question is WHY is this happening? Is there something underlying all of this.
  • Even many services which are not ‘free’ are moving towards this kind of symbiotic state, gathering personal data and offering discounts, bonuses or ‘personalised services’ in effective exchange. Why do I call it an ‘uneasy’ symbiosis? Because it isn’t stable, and because one side (the individuals) are essentially unaware of what’s going on - and when they are, they often object.
  • How did this come about? One way to look at is to consider the functional evolution of the web from the very beginning. At first, an information bank. Content providers put information up on the web, users accessed that information.
  • The change to ‘Web 2.0’ is characterised largely by a transformation in the users - rather than just accessing information, they begin to provide information themselves. Blogs, wikis, social networking sites, YouTube etc, expansions in old-fashioned message boards.
  • The change to web 2.5 - the symbiotic web - is characterised by a converse transformation in the erstwhile content providers. Now, not only do they provide information, but they gather information from people who visit their sites.
  • This information is then used, amongst other things, to ‘tailor’ their websites to the individual users - starting with targetted advertising and specifically chosen links, moving on to individualised content. This effectively fractures the web.
  • Nightmare visions like ‘whites-only websites’ become possible. Very different from Sunstein’s vision in that it’s not determined by people’s choices, but by the way things are chosen for people - a difference which has a significant effect on possible solutions
  • The role of each of the data gatherers in the Symbiotic Web is slightly different. Profiling, advertising etc.
  • Commerce is behind much of what is happening here
  • Commercially driven
  • Talk about Back-door Balkanisation here - Cas Sunstein’s Republic 2.0
  • There are signs - but the public needs to understand that privacy is not just about the obvious stuff: photos, email addresses, bank account details, but about all data. We can’t just protect the sensitive stuff, but anything that the sensitive stuff can be derived from. Diabetes is an example...
  • Autonomy, Privacy, The Symbiotic Web

    1. 1. Autonomy, Privacy and the Symbiotic Web Paul Bernal - LSE
    2. 2. The internet is an intrinsic part of modern life <ul><li>Interactions with government, from tax returns and claims to access to health services </li></ul><ul><li>Discounts, beneficial rates, some shopping services, delivery services only available online </li></ul><ul><li>Access to information is faster, more extensive </li></ul><ul><li>You CAN exist without online access, but you will be increasingly disadvantaged </li></ul><ul><li>Autonomy should mean the freedom to access modern life - so we should be ‘free’ to enjoy the internet... </li></ul>
    3. 3. The internet and personal data <ul><li>More data is being collected, and in more ways and by more organisations than ever before </li></ul><ul><li>The data that is gathered is being used in more ways than ever before </li></ul><ul><li>All of these trends are increasing, without any sign of slowing </li></ul><ul><li>Does this represent a threat to autonomy? </li></ul>
    4. 4. The Symbiotic Web <ul><li>A new model to understand this phenomenon - it helps explain: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Why so much data is gathered </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The principle commercial uses to which it is put </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Some of the ways it might be used in the future </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Why so much data collection and use is covert </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The difficulties our legal and regulatory systems have in controlling it </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The threats to our privacy and autonomy that arise through it </li></ul></ul>
    5. 5. Symbiosis <ul><li>Where two different kinds of organism exist together in a state of mutual dependence </li></ul><ul><li>Symbiosis can be mutually beneficial - but can also become parasitic, and detrimental to one of the parties </li></ul>
    6. 6. The Symbiotic Web <ul><li>Individuals and commercial enterprises are mutually dependent: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Enterprises have built business models reliant on a currency of private data </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Individuals depend on ‘free’ access to many services - from search engines to price comparison web sites, email to YouTube </li></ul></ul>
    7. 7. The Symbiotic Web Users Web 1.0 Content Providers
    8. 8. The Symbiotic Web User/Contributors Web 2.0 Content Providers
    9. 9. The Symbiotic Web User/Contributors Web 2.5 Content Providers/ Information Gatherers
    10. 10. The Symbiotic Web User/Contributors Web 2.5 Content Providers/ Information Gatherers
    11. 11. A fractured web? <ul><li>Individualised advertising, content - and links </li></ul><ul><li>For search engines, for example, different search results - or search results in a different order </li></ul><ul><li>Overall, the effect is more than just on the individual page, but on the navigation and the whole web experience </li></ul><ul><li>Not in the control of the user, but of the web providers </li></ul>
    12. 12. The origins of the Symbiotic Web <ul><li>Business models of Google and Facebook </li></ul><ul><li>Other businesses trying to emulate them </li></ul><ul><li>Not an expected development - many (including the EU in their E-money Directive) were expecting a big need for online micro-payments. These have not really materialised on any scale </li></ul>
    13. 13. Data and the data gatherers <ul><li>Search data - search engines </li></ul><ul><li>Clickstream data - ISPs and web providers </li></ul><ul><li>Communications data - email, telephony, chat </li></ul><ul><li>Social data - social networking sites </li></ul><ul><li>Commercial data - transactions AND ‘browsing’ data </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Habitual’ data - Google maps etc, YouTube etc. </li></ul>
    14. 14. Competitive drives <ul><li>The understanding by businesses that personal information has commercial value </li></ul><ul><li>Organisations gather more and more data, not just for specific current or planned uses, but speculatively </li></ul><ul><li>Once the data has been gathered, there is a drive to find more uses for it, to take advantage of your ‘assets’ </li></ul><ul><li>New businesses developed for aggregation and profile generation - and to help other businesses use data </li></ul>
    15. 15. Competitive drives <ul><li>As competition develops, so do competitive and anti-competitive practices - alliances, cartels etc Beacon and Phorm are prime examples </li></ul><ul><li>Drive for more ‘tailored’ services - and potentially price or service discrimination </li></ul><ul><li>The need for covertness - when customers know what is happening, they often object. Beacon and Phorm are again examples. </li></ul><ul><li>As competition increases and margins fall, less attention may be paid to ‘ethics’ </li></ul>
    16. 16. Consequences <ul><li>A burgeoning market in data - one about which users are being kept deliberately unaware </li></ul><ul><li>Much more data is being held - and hence is vulnerable </li></ul><ul><li>New data types are emerging - profiling data in particular - which has more significant vulnerabilities. Better targetted scams are more likely to succeed </li></ul><ul><li>New kinds of risks are emerging - ‘Back-door Balkanisation’ is just one example </li></ul>
    17. 17. Solutions? <ul><li>Break the dependence - through stronger, better enforced laws? </li></ul><ul><li>Change the paradigm - effectively give up on privacy. Accept that this is happening, enjoy the positives, penalise excesses. </li></ul><ul><li>Weaken the dependence - strengthen the rights of individuals, particularly in terms of consent and rights to be informed </li></ul><ul><li>Do very little - allow norms and markets to redress the balance. This may be happening already - e.g. Google reducing data holding periods </li></ul>
    18. 18. A rights-based approach? <ul><li>Human rights should extend to the internet </li></ul><ul><li>Appropriate rights need to be developed: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>A ‘right to roam with privacy’ - i.e. without data being gathered about you </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Stronger data protection laws - including stronger requirements for informed consent, and rights to have data deleted </li></ul></ul><ul><li>A new paradigm where privacy is taken seriously - and becomes something that companies gain from </li></ul>
    19. 19. Autonomy, Privacy and the Symbiotic Web <ul><li>Paul Bernal </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul><ul><li>CCJHR Postgraduate Conference </li></ul>