I am very much looking forward to meeting Tim Berners-Lee in November at the EIF event on Magna Carta for the World Wide Web.
For years now, I have been involved in Privacy discussions from a policy standpoint - and frankly, these discussions generate more heat than light. By that I mean, everyone has a view on Privacy - and those are expressed. But very few insights emerge. Most people can do little about privacy anyway unless they are a major web/social media player.
To make matters worse, peoples’ behaviour contradicts their concerns. Everyone is concerned about Privacy but everyone will merrily use their social media accounts to log on to other sites (thereby providing a ‘cookie trail’ of all their activity on the Web)!
But this time, if Tim Berners-Lee could repeat the success of the World Wide Web, it could make a difference.
Essentially, Tim Berners-Lee says people need to reclaim ownership of their data and start making use of their data for their own benefit
According to the Guardian and others who have quoted his recent talks: (emphasis are mine)
Let’s take a step back and try to understand privacy because we mean many things in context of Privacy
A University of Pennsylvania paper gives a good taxonomy of privacy which I summarize below (source from the paper):
• The first group of activities that affect privacy involves information collection. Surveillance is the watching, listening to, or recording of an individual's activities. Interrogation consists of various forms of questioning or probing for information.
• A second group of activities involves the way information is stored, manipulated, and used – what I refer to collectively as “information processing“. Aggregation involves the combination of various pieces of data about a person. Identification is linking information to particular individuals. Insecurity involves carelessness in protecting stored information from leaks and improper access. Secondary use is the use of information collected for one purpose for a different purpose without the data subject's consent. Exclusion concerns the failure to allow the data subject to know about the data that others have about her and participate in its handling and use. These activities do not involve the gathering of data, since it has already been collected. Instead, these activities involve the way data is maintained and used.
• The third group of activities involves the dissemination of information. Breach of confidentiality is breaking a promise to keep a person's information confidential. Disclosure involves the revelation of truthful information about a person that impacts the way others judge his/her character. Exposure involves revealing another's nudity, grief, or bodily functions. Increased accessibility is amplifying the accessibility of information. Blackmail is the threat of disclose personal information. Appropriation involves the use of the data subject's identity to serve the aims and interests of another. Distortion consists of the dissemination of false or misleading information about individuals. Information dissemination activities all involve the spreading or transfer of personal data or the threat to do so.
• The fourth and final group of activities involves invasions into people's private affairs. Invasion, unlike the other groupings, need not involve personal information (although in numerous instances, it does). Intrusion concerns invasive acts that disturb one's tranquillity or solitude. Decisional interference involves the government's incursion into the data subject's decisions regarding her private affairs.
After the W3C, Tim Berners Lee has been speaking of the Semantic Web since 2001... In 2004(ish) the world got Web 2.0 – which could be seen as a ‘social’ semantic web (we provide the semantics). Tim Berners-Lee has also been involved with the Open Data Institute.
In 2009 we saw ‘Big Data’. One could argue that the Privacy issues we see today have been amplified by Big Data. Thus, speaking about Big Data now could be a logical progression. The problem of Big Data and Privacy has now transitioned beyond the academics with the Snowden revelations and the ‘right to be forgotten’ regulation. So, in that sense Tim Berners-Lee looks to the 25th anniversary of the Web to start a discussion on internet rights – including Privacy.
Both Governments and Companies have progressively lowered our expectations of Privacy through new Big Data technologies. As we have seen in the Taxonomy of Privacy – there are many ways Privacy could be breached and Companies and Governments now have exponentially powerful technologies to harvest Privacy related information.
When viewed in this context, the efforts from Tim Berners-Lee could be seen as ‘Rethinking big data’
Ello is the first company in the social space to gain world-wide attention on the basis that it is ad-free. The fact that it is resonating with people to the extent it is, means there is a shift (irrespective of how it evolves beyond the initial Buzz – Ello Goodbye). By extension, Tim Berners-Lee could cause a much wider shift in perception for the community globally.
But the real question is: if we rethink Big Data – what are we proposing instead?
This is where the current Magna Carta discussion gets more interesting (Telegraph):
Big Data is being used by companies for targeted advertising and that makes Tim Berners-Lee feel ‘queasy’. But more interestingly, Tim Berners-Lee proposes to rethink Big Data by Rich Data
In a Forbes interview he elaborates more about Rich Data (again emphasis are mine):
Ironically, a month ago I blogged about a similar idea which I called 'Small data: A deterministic and a Predictive approach' (extending a talk by Daniel Villatoro, bank BBVA). Companies like Meeco are also addressing this challenge of empowering the User and are early attempts to provide the cross app data insight Tim Berners-Lee speaks of.
So what is Rich Data? It’s Data (and Algorithms) that would empower the individual. According to Tim Berners-Lee: "If a computer collated data from your doctor, your credit card company, your smart home, your social networks, and so on, it could get a real overview of your life." Berners-Lee was visibly enthusiastic about the potential applications of that knowledge, from living more healthily to picking better Christmas presents for his nephews and nieces. This, he said, would be "rich data". (Motherboard)
At the beginning of the article, I said that Privacy discussions often generate more heat than light...
But with a talk of Rich Data – we could actually make a difference. More specifically, in my blog post about Small Datablog post about Small Data, I proposed a new class of Predictive algorithms. A similar approach could be considered for Rich Data also. If we succeed in doing this, we could both gain insights and empower/serve the individual.
I shall elaborate more about Rich Data after I meet Sir Tim Berners-Lee.
by Ajit Jaokar