Are privacy and consent 20th century terms?

by | Sep 1, 2019 | ICT4D |

As we become more and more digital in our own lives and in how we work with vulnerable people, privacy and consent are topics hot debated. As regular readers of this blog know, I have written about these topics lots. And yet, has the shipped sailed on both of these? Was the time for privacy and consent conversation 20 or 30 years ago?

Our digital footprints, trails are long and each day we leave more and more breadcrumbs behind us. Deleting the trail is nearly, if not impossible. And many of us, actually don’t want it deleted because our trail makes certain aspects of our lives easier – our searches and news feed are tailored to our historical preferences and who are friends are, websites ‘remember’ us so we don’t have to sign in, and so on. We like what mass customisation has brought us.

Underlying both privacy and consent is the idea of trust; most of us do not want surprises (as Seth noted recently). Most of us want the appearance of control without all the work that it involves; we want our engines to work, but we don’t want to be a mechanic.

We expect people and organisations who have access to our data to use it responsibly, which often means ‘the way we would’ and ‘in a legal, moral, and ethical way’. The problem is we are all different and interpret ‘legal, moral, and ethical’ slightly differently. Often privacy comes up only when a ‘line’ of sorts has been crossed or a database has been hacked sparking outrage and anger. Interestingly, when a database has been hacked, the ‘failing’ is a data security failure and yet privacy often is talked about.

Consent is closely tied to privacy, but again difficult to define and implement; it can be quite black and white. Again we often don’t care about consent until our data is shared with someone we don’t want it to without our knowledge or awareness. We don’t like surprises and we want awareness. But we want awareness that we can understand, not some 20 page legal document.

As we become more digital, we need to be fostering more and more conversations about trust. Not only trust regarding, is the data true and verifiable; but more importantly trust between individuals, between communities, between people and organisations, companies, etc.

Trust is intimately connected with ethics and integrity – do we behave they we say we will when no one is looking? Do we admit and hold ourselves to account when we are made aware of the unintended consequences of our actions? Or do we let our ad revenue drive greater polarisation in what we put our users’ news feeds or let our desire for data make us decide to withhold food from already starving communities?

Perhaps trust is the term we need to discussing in 21st century?

Photo by Bernard Hermant


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