Home Global-ICTGlobal-ICT 2014 Helping content and privacy coexist:It’s often said in the Internet world that “content is king.” However, that doesn’t mean it has to rule us.

Helping content and privacy coexist:It’s often said in the Internet world that “content is king.” However, that doesn’t mean it has to rule us.

by Administrator
Kathryn C. Brown Issue: Global-ICT 2014
Article no.: 12
Topic: Helping content and privacy coexist:
It’s often said in the Internet world that “content is king.”
However, that doesn’t mean it has to rule us.
Author: Kathryn C. Brown
Title: CEO
Organisation: Internet Society
PDF size: 215KB

About author

Kathryn C. Brown joined the Internet Society as President and Chief Executive Officer on January 1, 2014. She is a veteran of Internet policy development and corporate responsibility initiatives that have aided in the Internet’s global expansion. Her career spans the public and private sector, including serving in the United States National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) as well as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) during the Clinton Administration. Ms. Brown has also headed up policy and global corporate social responsibility initiatives for telecom provider Verizon as well working on legal and regulatory communications policy for law firms and consultancies.

She received her J.D., summa cum laude, from Syracuse University College of Law and her B.A., magna cum laude, from Marist College. Ms. Brown has served on the advisory boards of the Public Interest Registry (.ORG), the mPowering Development Advisory Board of the ITU, and the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab.

Article abstract

The data we provide to the Internet through search engines may be just the tip of the iceberg, as well. Every day, we connect online to the people, ideas, causes, places and things we love. And the more we connect, the more information we share about ourselves, either willingly or unknowingly.

All this sharing leaves an increasingly detailed digital footprint. A picture that is invaluable to businesses and public institutions, and that can be used to market to us from every angle, or to track our every move, and create an online record of each of us that becomes more and more revealing over time. Even if we understand the information that we are making available through the Internet, not many understand how it is being used.

Full Article

In 2006, AOL publicly released a file containing all of the searches conducted by its customers over a three-month period, representing 20 million search terms for 650,000 users. The release was meant to assist researchers and to protect confidentiality; each user name was replaced by a number. Within days, the New York Times was able to identify that user number 4417749 was Thelma Arnold, a 62-year old from Georgia, and within weeks three AOL employees resigned or were fired, including the CTO.

This raises the question, if the professionals responsible for this search data were not able to foresee how it could be used, what chance do we have as the users providing the data? Thelma Arnold, who agreed to an interview with the Times, was shocked at what just three months worth of her search terms revealed about her life. I would guess most of us would have reacted the same way.

Ironically, the New York Times article highlighted the similarities between new and old media models. AOL gathered data on users such as Thelma Arnold in order to deliver users to advertisers. The New York Times published the articles such as the one on Thelma Arnold in order to deliver readers to advertisers. There is, however, a significant difference based on the personalized data that can be gathered and delivered, via the Internet. Advertisers may guess which types of cars readers of the New York Times may like; advertisers can know, based on search terms, not only that a user is interested to purchase a new car, but the exact type of car.

The data we provide to the Internet through search engines may be just the tip of the iceberg, as well. Every day, we connect online to the people, ideas, causes, places and things we love. And the more we connect, the more information we share about ourselves, either willingly or unknowingly.

All this sharing leaves an increasingly detailed digital footprint. A picture that is invaluable to businesses and public institutions, and that can be used to market to us from every angle, or to track our every move, and create an online record of each of us that becomes more and more revealing over time. Even if we understand the information that we are making available through the Internet, not many understand how it is being used.

Every simple interface we see, for the services we use online, hides a complex ecosystem of third parties who live by monetizing our digital footprints. Now with smartphones, location services and geotagging, it’s possible to glean a great deal of a person’s life through data. When you add browser tracking, device fingerprints and big data analytics, the data we disclose intentionally becomes just a small part of the whole picture.

Marketers have always yearned for better data, and these days, they get more and more of it without any explicit decision from us. In fact, behavioral profiling means that you’re affected, every day, by things you didn’t even do: things that were done by folks like you.

So what do we have here? Is this glass half empty or half full? Depending on your point of view, developments like personalized advertising and ‘tailored’ services are either a useful, convenient innovation or a sneaky form of commercial manipulation. There’s scope for constructive innovation and economic benefit, and there’s also scope for abuse. Is the data monetization model of Internet growth desirable and sustainable, or are we signing up for a bad bargain in the interest of convenience?

It’s a judgment call – and like any judgment call, the better informed you are, the better your chances of making the right choices.

And that’s the challenge going forward – being able to benefit from an increasing range of Internet services while still preserving control over our privacy and online identity. We can’t do this unless we understand the tensions between providers and users:

1. Service providers and advertisers aim to provide a “personalized Internet experience” to help attract users, and to improve the effectiveness of their advertising efforts;
2. Consumers intrinsically appreciate personalization because it’s more convenient, say, for their address/location to be pre-determined, or because ‘accurate’ online advertising is more useful than badly-targeted offers.
3. However, consumers also want control over their privacy and online identity, and may seek out an option with no data capture or unsolicited advertising, and that’s not the bargain that’s being offered.

The challenge is to resolve the inherent conflicts between these stakeholder interests. There’s a built-in power imbalance here, and re-balancing the power relationship is a core goal of the Internet Society’s multistakeholder approach.

At the Internet Society, we advocate a measured approach to the issue. First, we strongly believe that knowledge is power, and because of that, we’ve created tools to help inform people how to make better choices and manage their online identity and privacy. These tools are free on our website at http://www.internetsociety.org/what-we-do/internet-technology-matters/privacy-identity.

Second, we work closely with a broad range of stakeholders, both on a global and local level, to try to standardize and clarify how digital identities should be managed and protected, and to build a common understanding.

Third, we call upon the business sector to use data responsibly, and to work with organizations to create and follow codes of conduct to ensure Internet users are protected. The most positive outcomes result from voluntary cooperation and mutual respect. People clearly are open to providing information in exchange for services and features when they are treated fairly and able to make an informed decision. So the objective is to create a safe, fair framework where that can happen. The goal isn’t to choose between consumer interests and business goals; it is to optimize for both.

Thelma Arnold, when learning of AOL’s release of her data, dropped her AOL subscription. However, if we are unpleasantly surprised today by the discovery of things we have confided in the Internet, we cannot simply cancel our subscription. At the Internet Society, we believe an open and strong Internet means you can exercise choice over your online experience and its effects on you. Working together with the private and public sector, we hope to make that a reality, and keep the Internet a place where all the content we want can coexist with the privacy we deserve.

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