Although the Darklight Symposia weren’t quite like the bar in Cheers where everybody knows your name, there was a lot of familiar names and faces at this event. A good sign for Darklight because it means that they touched a chord with the topics they chose and also attracted a respected panellists. I attended the first symposium of the day “Letting it all hang out: Privacy vs. Publicity in the Virtual World” and caught the very end of the second “Web 3.0: Where next for the Internet”. Brendan Hughes, chair of the IIA Social Media Working Group gives a good overview of the topics on his own blog. The festival continued in venues around Dublin all weekend.
I was particularly interested in the first symposium they ran this morning. Regular readers might recall that I was at another seminar last month about privacy in the Institute of International and European Affairs. While the two audiences were very different (Peter Fleischer from Google would not have been making jokes about Google employees non-tie-wearing* at today’s event, let me encapsulate it like that!) they had many of the same concerns albeit from a different angle. There was a strong sense of “us” and “them” to many of the comments from the floor. “Us” seemed to refer to the private citizen and “them” to anyone who wasn’t; but even “them” is made up of private citizens who have rights too; among them a right to earn a living. Also “them” variously referred to businesses and government: businesses who are retaining data about those using their services; governments using that data to for crime-fighting purposes. However there was little acknowledgement of the fact that those companies were generally obliged by those governments to keep that information but also to protect it. And where does the government get the mandate to oblige those companies to keep AND to protect it? From this “us”. However it would be disingenuous not to acknowledge that many of the concerns in the room were about the lack of disclosure about and access to exactly what information certain larger internet companies are retaining about individuals and their use of their services.
Businesses are, of course, not without their influence when it comes to data-protection policies. Involvement in bodies like the IIA allows businesses to come together and debate these issues and present a united view to the government. It is also essential that businesses remain aware of their obligations under data protection and privacy legislation and the IIA hopes to keep businesses abreast of these issues.
The keynote speaker was Daniel J. Solove, Associate Professor of law at the George Washington University Law School, and the author of “The Digital Person: Technology and Privacy In The Information Age”. This book can be downloaded for free from www.futureofreputation.com Chaired by solicitor and digital rights expert Caroline Campbell, the panel included journalist Jim Carroll, Hotline.ie director Cormac Callanan, Relevant Media owner Niall Larkin and Irish blogger Damien Mulley. The audience was made up of a mix of bloggers, developers, researchers, consultants and policy makers.
* Tie-wearing: I recall being irked at the IIEA seminar because Fleischer made a flip comment about how he could spot his Google colleagues a mile off because they were always the ones not wearing ties. This annoyed me because I had spoken to one of his colleagues earlier and SHE was most definitely not wearing a tie and probably never does. Similarly Annette Clancy from Inter-Actions, who I was sitting beside at the Darklight symposium on Friday, made a point from the floor that there were no women (bar the chair) on the panel on Friday and this was the case in both of the sessions. Working for an organisation that is constantly seeking good speakers and presenters for a variety of event types I understand the Darklight’s conundrum when they approach people and some of them are unavailable and unfortunately that effects the gender balance on their panel. Similarly I appreciate the viewpoint that to deliberately seek women because they are women could be just as sexist as not having women at all. However I do tend more to the side that it is essential that all aspects of a question are discussed. Women experience and use technology differently and for different purposes to men. I’m sure there’s research to back this up and would appreciate any links to same. Annette said to me later that one issue that was not discussed, and she feels, that this was due to the lack of women on the panel, was the issue of privacy and cyber-stalking. While this may not be solely experienced by women, if virtual life reflects real life chances are the majority of its victims are women.
Is the virtual life experience of women and their absence from some fora a reflection of the real life experience of women in technology and business? Why are the women unavailable? Where is the brave new world that the internet promises to all of us?
The EU have launched an e-inclusion policy portal which features detailed profiles of what’s happening in each member state under headings like ‘digital literacy and competences’, ‘cultural diversity’, ‘e-Accessibility’ and ‘ICT & Ageing’. All this is useful to know, so good for the EU.
The information is held in a wiki (under EU Country Reports), which is great because we can all contribute whatever information we know about what’s happening in Ireland. Except, hang on a minute. We can’t. The country-specific information in the wiki is protected and only the ‘country representatives’, who are from the governments (in Ireland’s case the Information Society Policy Unit in the Dept of the Taoiseach), can add or edit information.
I think this is a bad idea. For the wiki to be a truly useful resource of information about what is happening in the field of eInclusion across all member states, it will have to be correct, complete, well-balanced and up to date. I am concerned that leaving the content under the control of governments will not achieve this.
Governments have a vested interest in their country being portrayed in a positive light with respect to status and progress on eInclusion. It is therefore unlikely that the information they supply will be objectively accurate or complete. That is not to say that they will write a pack of lies, but they will understandably put a spin on it, in line with government viewpoints and government interests. Also, the most knowledgeable people in this area are often not found within government. If the aim is to provide a complete and accurate picture of the situation and progress on eInclusion within a country, the people within that country who are most knowledgeable should be able to contribute. These people are often found in the research and not-for-profit communities, not within government.
Not a promising start
The information under Ireland is extremely sparse at the moment and some of what is there is already out of date and incorrect, e.g. concerning the Group Broadband Scheme, under Geographical Digital Divide. I have been told that the Dept of the Taoiseach will be “looking for contributions and input from people like ourselves” but I believe this will impose a filter which would be likely to reduce the accuracy and completeness of any information we would provide.
I understand from the portal managers that the responsibility for editing has been given to the country representatives “for the moment”, in order to get national governments moving in upping their eInclusion efforts. From that perspective is may be good to offer governments at this early stage of eInclusion maturity the opportunity to represent themselves and their efforts. This may help engage them in the issues and bring them to a place where they can compare their situation directly with those in other Member States. But I hope that within a short time the wiki will be opened up to everyone so that it can benefit from the direct contribution and management of objective information from all knowledgeable sources.
Anyone who shares my concerns can express them on the wiki discussion pages as I have done.
Mark Magennis (IIA guest blogger)