Privacy, Places, and an Introduction

“Privacy issues” come and go from the political agenda with extraordinary rapidity. The community of privacy advocates,experts, officials and consultants that make up a large, expanding and international network seems constantly  fixated on the “privacy scandal of the week.”  Whether it’s the latest data breach, the latest iteration of Facebook’s privacy policy, a particularly pernicious bill going through Congress, a new product from Google or whatever, commentary (and often condemnation) is often instantaneous, and is expected to be instantaneous.

I have noticed a particular dynamic to privacy disputes. Typically they aren’t generated by outside investigation and revelation, but by official announcement by government or corporations.  A new database is contemplated, or a new mode of personal identification is proposed, or a new service is launched.  Typically, these announcements raise questions about the intended and the unintended consequences for the processing of personal information.  Typically the details provided are neither complete nor entirely transparent.  The lack of openness generates suspicions about the ways that personal information might be captured, used and disclosed given certain technical assumptions, and certain institutional motivations.  The disputes then generate a process of accusation and denial, and often leave us no wiser about the actual risks to privacy.  The debates tend to be episodic, and often fade from attention as the next privacy scandal of the week excites the attention of the privacy advocates and of the media.  I wrote about these dynamics in The Privacy Advocates — which is being published in paperback format this fall.

Over the years, I have contributed to these debates.  Journalists call me up, and ask for my instant reaction on the privacy risks inherent in a particular practice.  The latest example is that of Facebook Places.

This new application is an excellent example of this framing of privacy issues.  And at root, whether one believes that Facebook Places poses a risk to individuals’ ability to control the publication of where they are at any one time, really comes down to one of trust.

I will continue to speak in the media on issues of current controversy, but I also hope to use my new blog to offer some more sustained reflections on the privacy controversies of the day, in Canada and internationally.

Thanks for reading,

Colin Bennett

 

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