Digital Privacy – Yes to Individual, No to Common


If people get to decide over their own privacy, they are most likely to uphold it. Yet strong privacy would deprive the society from possible benefits from the data about behaviours: in marketing, asset management, science, security etc. A solution to this dilemma can be to keep personalized data secret, but to release anonymized data about behaviours for public use. For example, Nyman (2012a, 2012b) suggested creating Internet of Behaviours, in which people would approve release of their personalized data.

In addition to personalized data, there is also some value in metadata – integrated data from diverse sources. Now it is in the hands of relatively few companies and state agencies. People are left to believe in their mercy but, as frequent conflicts and disputes indicate, not everyone is in full trust to those few.

Trust could be improved together with transparency. If data is available to everyone, then it is more difficult for one to gain control over the others. If someone finds a new way to use the data and gains certain advantage, others can invent alternative ways for the same and the advantage will disappear. Common access to anonymized data can be compared with common access to education.

Why don’t we make it obligatory for all who collect digital data about people and their activities to make the anonymized data public? After all, this data does not belong to the observers only, it also belongs to those who are observed.

This idea seems doable, even for metadata. Similar to satellite images that are publicly available with a certain resolution only, minimum thresholds based on the probability of identifying any individuals can be used to prevent from publishing too detailed information. For example, if publishing some data allows identifying a safety-relevant information about a person with a probability 10% or higher, such data should not be published.

When you go outdoor, everyone can see something about you and you can also observe something about everyone else. People cannot see everything about you – you can hide some smaller things, the same applies to others: they can hide something, but not everything. In this regard, it is equal. In the digital world, it has been so that you cannot see anyone else, but someone can observe everyone. To ensure equality, we need to give equal access to anonymized information to all, yet continue holding secret the data allowing personal identification.

Aleksej Nareiko

  • Nyman, G. (2012a) Internet of behaviors (IB). Gote Nyman's (gotepoem) Blog. < https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/internet-of-behaviors-ib/ >, retrieved 22.04.2020.

  • Nyman, G. (2012b) The psychology behind Internet of Behaviors (IB). Gote Nyman's (gotepoem) Blog. < https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2012/10/04/the-psychology-behind-internet-of-behaviors-ib/ >, retrieved 22.04.2020.

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