Are we heading for the web ‘Magna Carta’?

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I read an interesting article in the guardian where we are warned of going towards needing the above recently quoted by Sir Tim Berners Lee just now about digital privacy that popped up in my feed in the wake of the news that Chrome has been downloading audio recordings taken without users permission through their mic. Essentially, we have all been bugged by Google. Scary, huh?

This is causing a lot of noise in the what will be a historic debate on user privacy and control for online and digital applications. But the question I’m asking is, where is the line and what does that line mean?

Quite often, users will marvel at how easy life is with recommendation. It’s particularly brilliant for eCommerce where the experience is key to give users what they want, when they want and how they want it. Tracking user behaviour is key to this to personalise experiences. Let’s not be naive, the goal here (as always) is to make more money but at least it is giving the user something in return.

Advertising: when is this ok? Is it ok to use this data to sell things to people outside of that dedicated experience? An example can be when the general user is creeped out that Facebook seemingly knows the product they were just looking at on Amazon and it appears on their timeline as an ad. Is that an abuse of privacy to people’s browsing on a free platform? If it isn’t, is it ok for charity and non profit organisations?

Surveillance: when, if ever, is this ok? Is it ok for Google to be downloading recordings from your machine without your knowledge or permission? Is it ok if it’s a government working with Google to do this? What about if it’s to catch terrorists? Online surveillance has played its part in monitoring, capturing and preventing dangerous individuals and organisations from committing horrific crimes. The lack of this has led to those crimes happening, remember the London riots that were exacerbated through the lack of surveillance where gangs were using bbm to organise?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, they are immensely complex with so many different angles. Is the answer enforced regulation? No I don’t think it is, the Internet is a platform for freedom. By policing it we are removing that freedom. But by not policing it, some others freedom is impaired.

One thing I do know, a full assessment of the situation needs to happen with views from all forums from grannies playing scrabble online (my grandma is rather partial and is never off her iPad playing this!) right up to our web evangelicals and peace keepers. All these discussions need to be open and leaders of it should represent diversity, freedom and peace. This is not one for the politicians, online giants or bias from the digital community of monoliths who make money out of intrusion to lead.

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