Friday 19 March 2010

Learning an essential life skill

I attended an excellent session at the think tank Demos today, where one of the participants said something so profound that I thought I should blog about it as soon as I could. So here it goes:

“Managing your privacy in a digital age is an essential life skill.”

This is a simple, but very profound statement, as it reminds us all that privacy is very much a process that everyone has a role to play in. It’s not simply about an individual, having rights to information about themselves that are inalienable and where they accordingly have an absolute right to veto any uses of that information which they find unacceptable. And nor is about the rights of data controllers to do whatever they want with information they are able to obtain from, say, a range of both private and not-so-private sources.

In a few years time, privacy will turn out to be a “negotiable settlement” that will depend on the various benefits that are available to each of the stakeholders. But we are not there, yet.

Neither people nor businesses should assume that privacy has an apocalyptic future.

It’s a very personal thing that will eventually enable individuals to trade certain information about themselves for certain types of tangible benefits. But we are not there yet – and all he organisations that rely on this personal information still have to develop proper tools that enable them to properly assess its value, in order that it can be properly traded.

What’s the ultimate aim – probably to ensure that individuals can acquire and store two types of information, which could be used for different purposes. The two types of information, putting them crudely, are personally identifiable information, and personally embarrassing information. There may be many times when we wish to control the “identifiable” information, in order that we can share it when we want to access certain services (particularly say financial services. On the other hand, there may also be times when we want to carefully control the information which, in the wrong hands (or servers), could be embarrassing. I may be happy sharing images of me enjoying myself with my friends, but I may not be too keen on other work colleagues or journalists seeing just what I’ve been getting up to.

And who will equip people with the life skills they need in this digital age? I'm not sure yet, but when I know, I’ll certainly be blogging about it!