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“Data privacy is a collective concern”

Cross-posted from The Privacy Collective

Photo by Lianhao Qu on Unsplash

Why does online privacy matter?

First, you have to define why you value privacy. Privacy has been described as an elusive social value that varies across cultures and changes as the world evolves. I like to think of it not as a fixed concept, but rather a practice or process, which, as historian Sarah E. Igo explains, requires us to define the boundaries between our private affairs and our public selves, as a core component of building our citizenship.

Tell me about the work you do at the International Open Data Charter?

We’re a global organisation that works with governments and civil society organisations to study the way information is collected, used and shared, and how that is regulated. We promote policies and practices that facilitate well governed data. We think that context really matters and promote “publishing with purpose” — you don’t treat data about health the same as you do data about transportation, for example. Once that clear purpose is defined, it’s helpful to think about how information can be governed in a way that balances both the benefits and the risks.

How do you balance that call for openness with individual and collective data rights?

We spend a lot of time advocating for the need to balance between openness and privacy, but actually doing it is the hard part. First, you need to define the types of risks and benefits and the communities that are involved around that type of data. Some data should be open by default, some kept closed and some sensibly shared. Understanding where data sits across that spectrum is important.

You recently said that “good data is the life and death question now”. How has the Coronavirus pandemic changed this conversation about data, and what are your thoughts about how personal data is currently being used?

The pandemic has really brought concerns that transparency advocates and privacy champions have had in the past, to the fore. We’re seeing how important it is for government officials to have timely information to make decisions that are a matter of life and death, but also for the public to know and trust that information — i.e. how are those officials making those decisions, with what information, and what are the limitations around that data?

Data has been described as “the new oil”. With such value placed on data by platforms and commercial companies, how can we succeed in putting the power back into the hands of users?

I think there was a lot of focus at first with talking about data being the new oil. But I like the phrase from Martin Tisné at Luminate — that data is the new carbon dioxide. We now know that we may be more impacted by other people’s information than our own. It’s not as important if I don’t provide my personal details, when other people who do consent can then be linked with me. We are starting to see privacy through this new lens and it will require a collective action approach.

What can people do to educate themselves and protect their online data today?

Definitely aiming to be more data literate helps but I don’t think that that’s the whole solution. I don’t think we should place the burden on individuals to acquire the skills that they need, or to contribute the time that it takes to read these really long privacy terms and conditions documents, for example.



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