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Harmony in privacy advocacy and technological development?

posted by:Marty // 04:35 PM // June 19, 2005 // Core Concepts: language and labels

In a stark commentary by David M. Rabb, the privacy community can be seen to be taken to task.

Perhaps it's appropriate that the privacy community seems comprised mostly of people talking to themselves.
In one corner are public policy advocates who examine every new technology for privacy risks and inevitably find some. Their usual recommendation is to regulate or prohibit the new technology's use. Another corner holds academic and industry researchers working to build a detailed conceptual foundation for comprehensive privacy management. Yet another corner is reserved for software vendors offering standalone products with specific privacy-related functions. In a final corner, or maybe another room altogether, are corporate technology professionals whose only real goal is to satisfy their compliance departments. The corporate managers rarely interact with the other groups except when searching for vendors to help solve an immediate problem.
Still, the disjointed nature of the privacy discussion has a cost. The policy advocates often seem unconcerned with the practical implications of their suggestions, even though some advocates are themselves quite knowledgeable about business and technology. The researchers' conceptual frameworks could be very helpful to corporate systems designers, but only if they relate to infrastructures that actually come to exist. The value of the software point solutions is limited when there is no larger standardized framework for them to fit into.

The thesis of this article is that there is a point to the study of privacy implications resulting from new technologies. The disjointed nature of the various players in the privacy/technology nexus, however, does not allow the harmony necessary for full privacy concerns to enter into technology products, for better or worse (depending on one’s perspective). I would argue that, universally, this is not the case. Our project, On the Identity Trail, is just one avenue of research seeking to narrow this divide. Perhaps those who side with privacy advocacy should take a look at Raab's commentary, and those on the technology side, should explore our project and seek out other like minded research, for only through awareness and dialogue will harmony be achieved.

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It's always interesting to witness an inadvertant failure of reasoning, as is the case with Raab's half-baked article describing the impotence of "the privacy community".

In a nutshell...

If not from the policy advocates and researchers, exactly where does he locate the impetus for products like IBM's "Hippocratic Database"? Furthermore, on the one hand he chastises one-off vendors who try to implement partial solutions to the privacy problem, on the other he lauds IBM for the very same contribution! Raab implies that IBM's technology is effective where others fail because it is not "a commercial software product"--a claim I find hard to understand given that IBM has a history of profiting from its tchnological breakthroughs.

Given that the technology is privacy-oriented, Raab seems (like so many other techno-centric commentators) unable to see the forest for the trees.

Posted by: Jason Millar at June 20, 2005 01:43 PM

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