Tag Archives: privacy

Google and Privacy Issues



Google is no stranger to criticism about privacy issues, the most recent of which concerned data “accidentally” collected as part of the Google Street View project.  The news was reported on the BBC “Privacy body to re-examine Google

 “Britain’s privacy watchdog is to look again at what personal information internet giant Google gathered from private wi-fi networks… Google had “accidentally” grabbed data from unsecured hotspots for years as its Street View cars captured images of street scenes. In total it is thought to have grabbed about 600 gigabytes of data.”

The concerns mounted as it surfaced the data included emails and passwords.  An interesting comment that was included in the article from a radio phone-in, the caller had questioned individuals who do not secure their networks and then complain that their privacy is breached.  Of course we have a responsibility to make sure our data is secure – and stories like this one serve as a reminder of our own responsibilities.  However, Google knows a lot about its users and given their product improvements depend on this knowledge they need us to trust them!  To their credit they appear to take this responsibility seriously – they even have a team of engineers dedicated to help users control the personal details held in Google products – see dataliberation.org

I like to pay attention to stories like these, as privacy issues are of interest when considering the managing of information and intellectual assets.

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Open Rights Group Workshop; 24th July 2010

Saturday 24th July, (despite being my sixth wedding anniversary!), I attended a workshop on the current challenges of Copyright and Digital Rights. The workshop was organised by the Open Rights Group, a non-for-profit organisation which promotes and defends freedom of expression, privacy, innovation, consumers’ rights, and creativity on the net. You can read more about them here: http://www.openrightsgroup.org/about

The day was structured between a series of presentations and small group discussions. Topics of debate included the new English Digital Economy Act, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), and the movement of Open Access Data.

From the programme I believe that our readers will be mostly interested in Professor Boyle’s presentation on the shrinking of the public domain, and the discussion on open data and access to information led by the Open Knowledge Foundation Network (OKFN).  I think the discussion on ACTA could have been very interesting if more information and facts had been given – a lot of discussion was around the fact that the Act needs to be changed even though nobody is fully certain about its precise content which is still (more or less) secret!

Professor Boyle rightly argued that we currently live in a paradox: despite the fact that we generate more and more information and knowledge that enables us to be more creative and innovative, we are moving towards stricter controls to protect such information and knowledge.  Instead of letting it free, we are locking it away. Most jurisdictions have seen an ongoing stretch of the duration of copyright, from 28 years (renewable possibly for another 28 years’ period) to author’s life + 70 years, which seems to go against the original principle of promoting culture through innovation.

The decision of not dealing seriously and practically with the problem of “orphan works” is another symptom of this general over-protection of authors to the detriment of users. In this atmosphere of vagueness and uncertainty, Professor Boyle praised Creative Commons for providing a simple solution to the complexities of copyright, and urged for a real harmonisation of the exceptions, namely the situations which would not amount to breach of copyright (e.g. fair-use)

Professor Boyle gave a very similar presentation at UC Davies and which can seen on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_OInGKMc1Wo

The Open Data discussion focused on the importance of keeping data freely and easily accessible and usable. Some reasons given included: such data is most of the time generated through public funding, that information which is already available in the first place cannot be locked away, and that the more openly and freely information circulates, the more additional information and knowledge is generated.

I felt that the session was quite good but that a lot of collateral issues ought to have discussed, or at least touched on if time was a constraint. For example, what happens if data has been generated using funding from the private sector as well? Is it really easy to distinguish it from confidential and/or sensitive data? Should a debate on releasing as opposed to sharing data also be tabled? What is the reality as to what data releasers want users to be able to do? (Copying in part? In full? Download and modify?).  Perhaps the OKFN does not have enough experience within the area of genetic material and access & benefit sharing, as there are a lot of concerns (possibly unfounded) like biopiracy which can be a real obstacles to the openness and sharing of data. I hope there will be other occasions in the future to address all these questions with the OKFN.

Many thanks to Joe (McNamee, Advisor to the European Digital Rights) who invited me to the event!

Post written by Francesca Re         Manning of CAS-IP

The Facebook terms-of-service-saga raises important issues of ownership and rights when sharing data

http://consumerist.com/5150175/facebooks-new-terms-of-service-we-can-do-anything-we-want-with-your-content-forever
The news that Facebook had updated it’s Terms of Use was quietly mentioned via the Facebook blog on the 4th Feb 2009.  Within a matter of days the news had spread into online campaigns against the move, with tens of thousands of users protesting online. By the 18th Feb NYTimes online reported that Facebook would withdraw its changes.

But, what a mess.  And what a huge dent to the trust Facebook enjoyed – and trust is critical if you want to people to share their information and data.   The lead link on consumerist.com analysed the legal clauses and this article was instrumental in the news gaining the attention it did.

We at CAS had some email exchanges about the subject.  Guat Hong Teh made the following comment bringing the issue into the focus of our work in the CGIAR.  She said:

“It’s easy to relate with applications like Facebook…the analogy to what we do with the centres is probably databases that centres create collating information/data ‘belonging to other people’.”

As the above mentioned NYTimes article says:

“Analysts say that much of the confusion and rancor this week stemmed from the fact that sites like Facebook have created a new sphere of shared information for which there are no established privacy rules.”

This may be true in legal terms, but the actions of the users suggest they already have their own very established idea about who owned the data.  Anyone setting up a data sharing environment should take note and be sure to think carefully not only about terms of use but how those terms might be interpreted.

Thanks to Sebastian Derwisch for sending today’s lead link.

Stumble on path to open access?

http://www.nature.com/news/2008/080904/full/news.2008.1083.html
This article, spotted by CAS-IP manager Victoria Henson-Apollonio, outlines new restrictions on access to raw data from human genome-studies.  Victoria wrote:

“What does this have to do with agriculture and access to data?  Possibly nothing at all, –or, because of the power of the human genomics research community on other biologically-based scientific disciplines, it could mean that this decision will affect the availability of data more widely.  We need to keep a watch on this latest struggle.  The Wellcome Trust has been THE leader is opening up access to research results and scientific reports/articles on research funded by Wellcome.”