Opinion

Privacy in Context

By J. Trevor Hughes, CIPP

The New York Times ran a story yesterday that describes the arrival of our “contextualized” existence—brought forth by predictive search apps that understand the context of your life and provide reminders, information and services based on what you are doing, where you are and what you might need next. Products like Google Now, Evernote and Cue are said to “know what you want, before you do.” In a front-page, above-the-fold story, the Times highlighted the fact that privacy remains, yet again, a central concern as we move towards this digital future.

The utility of these services is quite clear. Digital concierges that accurately predict what we will need to know, and when we will need to know it, could increase productivity and improve our lives. But how do we manage privacy concerns in these contextualized environments? We already struggle with the application of the fair information practices in mobile environments. Notice and choice are strained by the small screens and multi-party, multi-functional devices we carry in our pockets. Adding predictive search—with the expectation that such services scan many disparate data feeds to determine our contextual needs—only makes the role of the privacy professional, and the risks to privacy, more complicated.

At the IAPP Privacy Academy in Bellevue, WA, on October 1 and 2, we will have the opportunity to explore some of these challenges. And we will have a great duo—Robert Scoble and Shel Israel—provide a keynote on their upcoming book on our contextual future. Coincidentally, Shel and Robert have taken to social media for help with their chapter on privacy. They are asking for input on what we should expect with regard to privacy in the era of contextual and wearable computing.

So let’s help Robert and Shel as they finish up their book. Post your comments on “privacy in context” in our Privacy Perspectives discussion, and we will share them with the authors prior to the academy.

More from J. Trevor Hughes

About the Author

J. Trevor Hughes is the President and CEO of the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP), the world’s largest association of privacy professionals.

Hughes is an experienced attorney in privacy, technology and marketing law. He has provided testimony on privacy issues before several committees within the U.S. Congress, British Parliament and EU Parliament.

Hughes previously served as the executive director of the Network Advertising Initiative and the Email Sender and Provider Coalition. He is an adjunct professor of law at the University of Maine School of Law and frequently speaks about privacy issues at conferences around the world.

See all posts by J. Trevor Hughes

Comments

  • August 06, 2013
    John Tomaszzewski
    replied:

    For those who have studied informationtheory, this is not new. Data is merely a set of facts. Facts, by themselves, are not useful. It isn’t until the fact is placed into a context that it transforms into “information”. While we like to think of ourselves as being in the “informatino age”, we are really in the “data age”. It isn’t until we get the distinction between data and information that we can move fully into the “information age”.

    The consequence of this misunderstanding has been at the heart of many debates over what constitutes PII. In point of fact, as information is a contextually-based construct, Privacy is also thusly a contextually-based construct. It has always been such.

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