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|Philip Agre (of the University of California, San Diego) and Marc
Rotenberg (Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center),
well-known in online policy circles as fierce defenders of individual
liberties, have put together a detailed and balanced analysis of privacy
policy in North America and Europe. Agre’s introduction sets a solid base
for the rest of the book, presenting such concepts as the “digital persona”
(based on an Information Society article by Roger Clarke) and Mark
Casson’s analysis of how social institutions have been affected by business
information. Throughout his narrative, Agre effectively incorporates the
arguments of his fellow authors to complete his overview of the work.
Those later chapters include examinations of privacy in multimedia computing environments, how privacy-enhancing technologies help offset the economic leverage of businesses requesting personal information as a part of normal business practice, and to what extent data protection policies have converged among developed countries. (The answer? The US is bucking a strong global trend by not instituting information protection regulations.)
While the middle chapters are quite worthwhile, my favorite chapter in Technology and Privacy is the final one: “Interactivity As Though Privacy Mattered”, by Rohan Samarajiva of Ohio State University. Dr. Samarajiva looks at the impact of collecting Transaction Generated Information (TGI) on customer-business relationships, persuasively arguing that covert collection can lead to a spiral of mistrust. Once a consumer’s trust in a business is weakened sufficiently, the consumer will resist collection or tender misinformation, prompting businesses to take more aggressive steps to collect consumer information and fuel the cycle. Samarajiva offers Quebec’s UBI (Universal, Bidirectional, Interactivity) network as a workable counterexample. UBI’s policies, which vigorously protect consumer data, are set forth in the UBI Code of Conduct, a document that reflects Quebec’s own stringent protections for consumer information. Samarajiva argues that these protections should, with time and adherence by the participants, lead to a trustworthy (and trusted) online business system.
“Interactivity” incorporates many themes from previous chapters, making an excellent capstone for the book. Yet, while the final chapter stands out, each element of Technology and Privacy will repay careful reading.
Curtis D. Frye (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the editor and chief reviewer of Technology and Society Book Reviews. He worked for four years as a defense industry analyst at The MITRE Corporation in McLean, VA, and is the author of Privacy-Enhanced Business, from Quorum Books.