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A landmark report will transform the debate on personal data

Posted on: Monday 12th of May 2014

Two reports to the US President on Big Data and Privacy are likely to transform the debate about the future of personal data. The first report on the broad issues is quite anodyne. But the second one on the technology aspects of the debate get right to the point.

This report repeats something we’ve been saying for a long time: that the notion of ‘informed consent’ (which underpins EU data protection legislation) is fundamentally flawed. But it also highlights the answer which Ctrl-Shift has been advocating for the past years: that the solution lies in intermediaries acting for individuals to help them assert control over their own data.

Here is what it says.

“The conceptual problem with notice and consent is that it fundamentally places the burden of privacy protection on the individual. Notice and consent creates a nonlevel playing field in the implicit privacy negotiation between provider and user. The provider offers a complex, takeitorleaveit set of terms, while the user, in practice, can allocate only a few seconds to evaluating the offer. This is a kind of market failure.

“PCAST believes that the responsibility for using personal data in accordance with the user’s preferences should rest with the provider rather than with the user. As a practical matter, in the private sector, third parties chosen by the consumer (e.g., consumerprotection organizations, or large app stores) could intermediate: A consumer might choose one of several “privacy protection profiles” offered by the intermediary, which in turn would vet apps against these profiles. By vetting apps, the intermediaries would create a marketplace for the negotiation of community standards for privacy. The Federal government could encourage the development of standards for electronic interfaces between the intermediaries and the app developers and vendors.”

This is what PIMS (Personal Information Management Services) are all about. It’s a landmark that this way forward is now being considered at the highest possible levels.