Tension between Open Data Directives and Privacy Protection


                   Big Data Creative Commons
I posted some comments on the Open Knowledge Foundation's new mailing list "My Data and Personal Data" with an appeal toward a dilemma I am facing. How do I reasonably protect privacy while at the same time providing a useful open data portal that makes a difference in my city?

Can I protect your data? 
Not yet. The answer is not simply "yes I can" or "it's just not possible" but rather how one defines useful and how one defines privacy and personally identifiable information. Defining the question as more about something lacking than in something that cannot be resolved. It is not the case that I am unable to, it is the case that I am not legally entitled to.

For most Americans, privacy is something we worry about but with which we make little, if any effort to protect. Santa Clara University discussed changing attitudes in American thinking on privacy. In Are Attitudes about Privacy Changing? the author discusses whether users changing the security setting of their social media profiles amounts to a change in thinking on privacy. In the US, parents do have some concern over the privacy of their children and about advertizing targeting their children (see Parents, Teens, and Online Privacy from Pew for an excellent overview).

The Santa Clara article above cites another Pew article Privacy Management on Social Media Sites as the source for most of its conclusions. The Santa Clara article and the article on Parents, Teens and Online Privacy both point to a concerned but uninformed opinion regarding one's own personal data and how this fits in with the emerging data ecosystem.

What needs to happen? Two things.
So to answer my own question I have to say I cannot guarantee anyone's privacy. No one can. Legislation regarding most social aspects of our lives never keep pace with our technology and our ability to amass huge stores of information.

+Alexander Howard posted an article on Google+ which shows history repeating itself. On posting the article Big Data is Opening its Doors but maybe too Many Alex comments:

Today, public and private entities collect enormous amounts of data about us, from our health to our location to our patterns of communication, or about our actions. Data brokers can aggregate profiles of us that go far beyond a basic credit report.

There's huge potential for social good in all of that data and processing power, matched with serious, almost existential risks for our privacy.

The article references yet another article Unlocking the Value of Personal Data: From Collection to Usage which considers the problems of big data, open data and privacy. It also discusses technology solutions to managing one's own personal data. This is good and probably a decent place to start. Like Alex Howard's comments discussed the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970 as legislative remedy to main frame data collection, we now need legal remedies for leakage of personal data into open data sets.

Something that indicates perhaps Americans are starting to realize is a local news article here in The News & Observer over gun permit holders demanding their permit data be redacted as confidential. Currently this is not the case. Gun permit data is a public record.

This is nearing a cross-roads moment where American open data advocates need to push for professional ethical standards and to draw attention to privacy concerns. We do not want privacy concerns to hinder opening the data. We need tools, training, standards and a legal framework to protect personal data.Big Data Creative Commons


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