Location aware tools and ubiquitous networks are enabling new activities... or are they just opening up old ones to a broader community? Regardless, all of us are now in positions to make decisions about our use of "big data" and how we control our own data. istock_000008436367xsmall (Slashdot carried both these stories last week.) The issue is control and self-determination -- having the systems savvy to make effective decisions for ourselves -- both at home and in our messages to our elected officials. Simson Garfinkel provides an excellent analysis of modern privacy trade-offs in this month's MIT Technology Review Privacy Requires Security, Not Abstinence: Protecting an inalienable right in the age of Facebook.
What happens if somebody impersonating you calls up a company and demands access to your data? If Google or Yahoo were storefronts, they would ask to see a state-issued ID card.... It turns out that we essentially have the technology to solve this problem in the digital world as well. Yet the solutions that have been developed aren't politically tenable--not only because of perceived costs but also, ironically, because of perceived privacy concerns. I understand these fears, but I think they are misplaced. When someone can wreak havoc by misappropriating your personal data, privacy is threatened far more by the lack of a reliable online identification system than it would be by the introduction of one. And it is likely that it would cost society far more money to live with poor security than to address it. I believe that we will be unable to protect online privacy without a strong electronic identity system that's free to use and backed by the governments of the world--a true passport for online access....
Simson's article raises both concerns and opportunities for control. The issues are complex, but they should become part of all of our general education requirements. We all need to understand the technology risks and opportunities, and make proactive decisions about the role we will play. These decisions relate to our personal lives and how we manage the data our organizations control. At each step we can either live with the defaults (often someone else's proactive choice) or make educated decisions.