Slide from our presentation; image from Harpeth Presbyterian Church
The Common Data Project recently attended the DIMACS Workshop on Internet Privacy at Rutgers University. Since we’d already introduced the basic idea of a datatrust at the last DIMACS workshop we attended in February, we decided to do a presentation on a more specific aspect of our work—how an individual user might interact with the datatrust. We want to create a new paradigm, a completely new way for individuals to collect their own personal information and share it with others—whether friends, researchers, or businesses—in ways individuals dictate. Alex emphasized how such a model must be more intuitive than the opt-in/opt-out models available today, and walked through how this might be possible.
Given that the topic “Internet Privacy” covers a range of issues, the workshop drew a diverse group of participants. We heard a presentation by Adam Smith at Penn State University on differential privacy, a new area of research that we’ve been interested in for some time now, with the hope that it could be useful to our datatrust. Daniel Howe from NYU and Felipe Saint-Jean from Yale presented on TrackMeNot and Private Web Search, two different approaches to obscuring identification by search engines, leading to an intense discussion on the ethics of purposefully messing with the business model of Google and the other search engines. EJ Jung from the University of Iowa gave a fascinating talk on the ways controls have been placed on access to data in the Medical Image File Archive (MIFAR) at the Radiology Department. We found her talk particularly compelling, as her project deals very practically with existing data and the obvious needs of doctors, researchers, and patients. Solon Barocas at NYU, who also spoke on our panel, shared his research on how data-mining is used by political campaigns for voter profiling, which raises interesting and possibly troubling implications for democracy.
We were also struck by Naftaly Minsky’s presentation on preventing servers from abusing their clients, as he discussed the possibility of hypothetical “trusted third parties” to act as intermediaries between individuals with information and businesses and other organizations that seek information. His description of the ”trusted third party” seemed to us somewhat similar to our conception of a datatrust. We’re looking forward to exploring further how his research, as well as the other research we learned about, could shape our work.