Re: W3C TAG position on policy mechanisms for Web APIs and Services

Frederick Hirsch writes:

> No ,from my personal understanding I think we are asking something 
> broader, which is, how to enable privacy in the context of APIs 
> without creating unnecessary complexity or dependencies.

(I'm responding as an individual TAG member -- not speaking for the rest 
of the TAG)

One approach that intrigues me would be to do something along the lines 

* Ensure that the API has some reasonably general extensibility mechanism, 
including the ability for code using the extensions to dynamically 
discover which ones are there, and whether use of any are required (in the 
common case of Javascript APIs, I suspect that most of what you need is 
inherent in the language itself.)  User agents would be expected to 
enforce the use of mechanisms that are marked as required.

* Identify reasonably forseeable use cases involving privacy, and show how 
the extension mechanism could be used to implement >and require the use 
of< the necessary controls where necessary.

* As appropriate, provide mandatory baseline privacy controls if deemed 
necessary for likely early uses of the APIs.  To some extent, the debate 
for a particular API will be "what should be the mandatory baseline 
privacy controls, and should it be possible to replace these as 
requirements change?"

If done right, I think you could create APIs in which both mandatory and 
optional privacy policies could be implemented as "mix-ins", but in which 
it innovation relating to the particular privacy mechanisms could be 
somewhat decoupled from evolution of the specifications for the rest of 
the API.

Some of this is intuition and I understand that details are vague;  I 
don't have an existence proof that this approach is workable, but it seems 
to me that it's an appealing direction to explore.


Noah Mendelsohn 
IBM Corporation
One Rogers Street
Cambridge, MA 02142

Frederick Hirsch <>
Sent by:
01/08/2010 03:13 PM
        To:     "" <>
        cc:     "Hirsch Frederick (Nokia-CIC/Boston)" 
<>, "" <>, W3C 
Device APIs and Policy WG <>, (bcc: Noah 
        Subject:        Re: W3C TAG position on policy mechanisms for Web 
APIs and Services

Hi Ashok

No ,from my personal understanding I think we are asking something 
broader, which is, how to enable privacy in the context of APIs 
without creating unnecessary complexity or dependencies. I think this 
is a more difficult problem since it is harder if we do not assume a 
pervasive privacy infrastructure. Can we privacy-enable APIs without 
assuming a specific infrastructure? Put another way, what are the 
various approaches?
One might be treating APIs as RESTful APIs [1] another might be to 
require passing of information structures like Geopriv in the API 
calls, to give only two examples. What are the implications of 
various  approaches - does the TAG have comment?

We are also seeking feedback on the Geolocation decision noted in my 

I'd be interested in learning more about what you think the general 
approach might be, and how trusted agents fit into that, but that was 
not the specific question.


regards, Frederick

Frederick Hirsch


On Jan 6, 2010, at 1:58 PM, ext ashok malhotra wrote:

> Hi Frederick:
> I think you are saying that users want a trusted agent to enforce
> privacy.  Where is that trusted agent?
> Is this correct?
> All the best, Ashok
> Frederick Hirsch wrote:
>> Dear Noah and TAG members:
>> The Device APIs and Policy Working Group understands the importance
>> of  privacy. The DAP WG  would like to ensure that privacy concerns
>> are respected with the additional data that Web developers may obtain
>> using DAP APIs. At the same time we recognize the importance of
>> simplicity, ease of adoption, and the limit of the WG scope to API 
>> and
>> policy development (and not the creation of an infrastructure).
>> The DAP WG is only beginning to consider the privacy topic and would
>> appreciate all help it can obtain from anyone that can help us
>> achieve  a good practical  result in a reasonable time. Our initial
>> starting point will be to examine the decision of the Geolocation
>> Working Group in more detail. This decision was *not* to include
>> privacy rules as part of the API.  That decision is documented with
>> the following  Geolocation WG resolution:
>> " If the proposal [to include policy rules as part of the API] was
>> adopted, the browsers would end up showing the user an interface that
>> appears to be a user-agent enforced privacy preference panel.
>> However, since the privacy information is provided by the website,
>> there is no way for the user-agent to ensure that the claims made by
>> the website are actually true. This could result in the users being
>> mislead by a  user-agent prompt. This would break the separation
>> between the user-agent UI (which users trust) and the site content
>> (which users don't necessarily trust) and would therefore undermine
>> the user's trust in the user-agent, with extremely severe 
>> consequences
>> for Web security."

>> While we intend to look at each of the assertions made in that
>> resolution and see if and how they would apply to our own set of
>> APIs, we would very much welcome the TAG’s perspective on that
>> resolution.
>> We would also appreciate TAG input on how the DAP WG can address
>> privacy  concerns while limiting the scope to the API and policy
>> aspects of its charter, and not presuming or creating a surrounding
>> infrastructure.
>> Thank you.
>> Regards,
>> On behalf of the DAP WG
>> Frederick Hirsch and Robin Berjon, Co-Chairs
>> Note, This should fulfill DAP ACTION-73 (for Tracker's benefit)
>> On Dec 4, 2009, at 10:33 AM, ext wrote:
>>> To: The W3C Device APIs and Policy Working Group
>>> The W3C Policy Languages Interest Group maintains a Wiki [1] which
>>> contains real world cases where personal information has been
>>> compromised
>>> due to inadequate policy or poor/nonexistent enforcement. One of 
>>> these
>>> cases describes how Virgin Mobile used photos that it found on 
>>> Flickr
>>> in a
>>> national advertising program.  The photos appeared on large 
>>> billboards,
>>> much to the surprise of the owner and the subject.
>>> In the public mind, issues related to the management and 
>>> protection of
>>> user information in Web Applications, Device access over the Web and
>>> Services provided over the Web loom large and must be addressed. 
>>> The
>>> TAG,
>>> therefore, urges working groups working in these areas to include in
>>> their
>>> architectures the ability to communicate policy information so that
>>> it can
>>> be used to determine correct access to and retention of user data 
>>> and
>>> resources. Addressing these concerns should be a requirement,
>>> although the
>>> details of how they are addressed may vary by application. For
>>> example, a
>>> working group might provide mechanisms for including policy
>>> information in
>>> API calls in a flexible manner, perhaps by using some more 
>>> generalized
>>> extensibility mechanism.
>>> We note that there has been some dialog in this area.  In 
>>> particular,
>>> the
>>> IETF GeoPriv Working Group has requested [2] the W3C Geolocation 
>>> Working
>>> Group to add additional support for user privacy. There is a 
>>> discussion
>>> thread on this subject on the Geolocation Mailing list [3].
>>> Thank you very much.
>>> Noah Mendelsohn
>>> For the W3C Technical Architecture Group
>>> [1]

>>> [2]

>>> [3]

>>> P.S. Tracker:  this should fulfill TAG ACTION-318
>>> --------------------------------------
>>> Noah Mendelsohn
>>> IBM Corporation
>>> One Rogers Street
>>> Cambridge, MA 02142
>>> 1-617-693-4036
>>> --------------------------------------

Received on Tuesday, 12 January 2010 02:32:02 UTC