W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > public-philoweb@w3.org > September 2012

Re: privacy definitions -- was: WebID questions

From: Jason White <jason@jasonjgw.net>
Date: Sun, 30 Sep 2012 20:09:24 +1000
To: public-philoweb@w3.org
Message-ID: <20120930100924.GA1124@jdc.jasonjgw.net>
Henry Story <henry.story@bblfish.net> wrote:
> Looking at those two, can we agree that we agree that anonymity should be the default?
> I believe as you do that when I go to a web site the default should be that I not be 
> identified, and not be tracked. I can choose later to be tracked or identified for
> that site for a given amount of time or until I change my mind, but the default should
> be anonymity.

I agree this is a desirable default. The counter-argument will come, however,
from corporations that profit from tracking users and enabling advertisers to
take advantage of the information so acquired. This is, apparently, a
lucrative pursuit. It raises the economic question of whether, were anonymity
the default, content and application providers who presently fund their
end-user offerings through advertising would in some cases have to resort to
micro-payments, subscriptions or other means of charging users directly.

There are surely users who would willingly forego anonymity, allowing
information about themselves obtained via tracking to be sold to advertisers,
in exchange for "free" content and services on the Web. Of course, the system
only works if sufficiently many users are willing to make the trade-off; and
those who operate businesses in this manner are going to argue, whether
convincingly or not, that making the trade-off should be the default position,
with anonymity left as an option that an individual user can invoke as desired.

For purposes of this post I am not taking sides, but instead attempting to set
out the issues and arguments fairly.
> Anonymity is important for many reasons. Among which is that it helps create a trusted
> public sphere. It increases my trust in the information I read if I know that the publisher 
> publishes that information that can be read by anonymous readers. Knowing that the publisher 
> cannot tell who is reading what he is publishing is a very strong guarantee that he
> is not adapting his message to different groups. Oddly enough anonymity has an important role 
> therefore in public discussion.

Indeed it does. Further, as no doubt you acknowledge, there are policy
concerns that extend far beyond anonymity: what is often needed and wanted is
control, within certain limits, over the use and dissemination of information
that individual users disclose in the course of their online activities.
Issues of privacy can often usefully be posed as questions of control,
exercisable in particular by an individual with respect to the content of her
or his own disclosures. Beyond that generality, the problems become complex
and I wouldn't pretend to have general principles to propose.

So far as philosophy is concerned, these are issues of applied ethics. There
may indeed already be a pertinent literature - I haven't checked, as this is
well outside my areas of current research interest (but it's certainly
interesting enough for a good mailing list discussion and I would gladly read
a paper on the topic).
Received on Sunday, 30 September 2012 10:09:50 UTC

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