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Why the world's top computing experts are worrying about your data

Katherine Noyes | Aug. 27, 2015
'We are living in a black box society,' one scientist said

There's a need for better mechanisms for protecting individuals' privacy, most participants agreed, as well as for more transparency on the part of those collecting and using the data.

What form that transparency should take, however, isn't entirely clear. If proprietary algorithms were simply published, for instance, would the average consumer even be able to interpret them?

"The technology is too complicated for humans to understand," Acquisti said. "We need a policy approach" that offers not just privacy by design, but privacy by default, he said.

Public policy and legislation are one approach to the problem, but some don't see much reason for optimism in that direction.

"The policy solution in the U.S. has failed," the EFF's Gillula said. "We have no hope there, which is why we're switching to technical solutions."

The group has already published a "Do Not Track" policy that companies can embrace, for example. It's also working on Privacy Badger, a browser extension for Firefox and Chrome that blocks spying ads and invisible trackers.

The EFF advocates end-to-end encryption as well. "Agencies can't do mass surveillance if all the data is encrypted," Gillula pointed out.

If nothing else, it's clear that the solution to the problem can't come from just one side.

"No one community can solve the problem by themselves," Cattuto said.

That it's a problem, however, seems to be beyond dispute.

As Turing Award winner and "father of the Internet" Vinton Cerf said, "We need to pay a lot of attention to this."

 

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