Posts Tagged ‘Contextual Privacy’

Yahoo or Google as a Datatrust? But will Facebook play?

Monday, May 4th, 2009

Time will tell, but it appears that Yahoo! has made it *really* easy (for application developers) to extract publicly available data from all over the interwebs and query it through Yahoo!’s servers.

YQL Execute allows you to build tables of data from other sources online, using Javascript as a programming language and run it on Yahoo’s servers, so the infrastructure needs are very small.

Similarly, Google “just launched a new search feature that makes it easy (for you and I) to find and compare public data.”

Graph from Google Public Data

Image taken from the Google Blog.

Which is pretty exciting as both are huge leaps towards what we’ve envisioned as a “datatrust” in various blog posts and our white paper. Well except for maybe the “trust” part. (Especially given our experiences with Yahoo here and here.)

A few more points to contemplate:

  1. Now that the Promised Land of collating all the world’s data approaches on the horizon, will that change people’s willingness to make data publicly accessible? What I share on my personal website might not be okay rearing its head in new contexts I never intended. As we’ve said elsewhere, when talking about privacy, context is everything.
  2. What about ownership? Both Yahoo! and Google may only temporarily cache the data insofar as is needed to serve it up. But, in effect, they will become the gatekeepers to all of our public data, data you and I contribute to. So the question remains, What about ownership?
  3. There’s still a lot of data that’s *not* publicly accessible. Possibly some of the most interesting and accurate data out there. How will we get at that? Case in point, Facebook just shut down a new app that allows you to extract your personal “Facebook Newsfeed” and make it public via an RSS feed, citing, what else? Privacy concerns. (Not to mention the fact that access to Facebook data is generally hamstrung by privacy.)

Property Shark and “Contextual Integrity”: Where real estate obsession and privacy academia intersect

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

Recently, I was having dinner with some friends when the topic of Property Shark came up. My friends, being homeowners, were disturbed that someone could simply go online, type in their address, and find out who the owners were and precisely what they had paid for it. One friend exclaimed, “I don’t want people to know how much money I have!” When I pointed out that the information was public record, and that before Property Shark, anyone could have gone down to City Hall and found the same information, he didn’t care. It still bothered him.

For all our talk of “privacy,” of how it’s being violated all over the place, of how it’s already lost, it’s not even clear what we mean when we say “privacy.” We, as a society, might have agreed that it is good public policy for real estate records to be public so that potential buyers can make sure sellers actually own the property they’re selling. Capitalism can’t thrive if you can’t be sure you own what you own. But when we theoretically made this agreement, we certainly didn’t imagine a world where “public” means available to anyone, anywhere, at any time. Professor Helen Nissenbaum, who recently presented at the DIMACS Data Privacy Workshop, has proposed that we think about “contextual integrity” rather than “privacy.” She argues that it’s more useful to consider what’s appropriate in each context rather than assuming there is a blanket “privacy” standard applicable to all situations.

That makes sense to me. My friend wasn’t arguing that the information shouldn’t be public record. Rather, he wasn’t comfortable with that information being accessed so easily online.

Personally, in the universe of privacy breaches, Property Shark doesn’t seem so problematic, but it’s certainly helpful as the Common Datatrust Foundation works on privacy problems to remember that “privacy” doesn’t have a singular meaning. One of CDTF’s goals for this year is to create some privacy standards for companies and other data collectors that acknowledge that information flow can’t just have a on/off, public/private spigot. It’s obvious that our world and our needs are more complex than that. After all, sometimes it’s hard to know even what we want when we clamor for more privacy. Even my friend, when pressed, admitted that the next time he was looking to buy a house, the first thing he would do is go to Property Shark.


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