Our Purpose, and What We Hope to Learn
We want to find ways to enable users to protect and control personal data and online identities, but we also want to make sure those solutions are easy to use and implement. How can we make privacy and identity protection effective while preserving the freedom of information that makes the Internet so valuable? We are also interested in identity, not only as the object of protection, but as a social force that might deter people from engaging in false statements, cyberbullying, and hate speech without restricting the free expression often associated with anonymity.
We have received around a dozen of proposals thus far, which mainly fall into the following three camps: 1. Protecting individuals from others, 2. Protecting individuals from themselves, and 3. “Super powers.”
1. Protecting individuals from others: We’re hearing much concern that the Internet provides too many avenues for violating an individual’s personal privacy — such as tracking online activities or releasing private information. Many of the received proposals seek to establish legal restrictions on companies while others utilize technology and design-oriented approaches. Proposals include: Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encryption protocols built into email; requiring ISP’s to enable Do Not Track protocols; requiring ISP’s to allow users to manage their personal identity information and prohibit them from storing any activity information; a United Nations resolution that would establish a universal Right to Identity; and separating user data hosting from application hosting to correct an architecture flaw in Web 2.0; and user control over installation of non-free software.
2. Protecting individuals from themselves: This second group of proposals expresses concern that the Internet ”gives each of us just enough digital rope to hang ourselves” – aka we need better tools to regulate our online behaviors and protect our “offline” reputations. One proposal discusses developing a software agent to Track What You Post – recording how much time we spend posting online and what content we write.
3. “Super powers“: We might gain some impressive, new powers from this third set of proposals. For instance, one proposal discussed a third-party trust mechanism to allow individuals to be both anonymous and accountable for their actions (useable with everything from micro-payments to passport applications).
As we consider these proposals, we also want to draw attention to a major initiative proposed by the White House: The National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC), which would create an “Identity Ecosystem… where individuals and organizations can complete online transactions with confidence, trusting the identities of each other and the identities of the infrastructure that the transaction runs on.” http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2010/06/25/national-strategy-trusted-identities-cyberspace