How Obscurity Could Help the Right To Fail

In a post on [email protected], David Hoffman explains why Internet obscurity can help the “Right to Fail.”  Absent providing individuals with “a sphere of privacy where they know they can make mistakes,” society may make it impossible for individuals to pursue ideas that “challenge the status quo” and are needed “to break away from conformity and innovate.”

He also highlights Woodrow Hartzog and Evan Selinger’s suggestion that obscurity might actually be better than privacy when looking at conceptual tools to protect personal information.


Increasing Calls for a Big Data Dialog

Big Data promises to open new doors to curing diseases, cleaning the environment, and easing life’s burdens, but is it opening too many doors?  Writing for The New York Times on Sunday, Steve Lohr suggested that the privacy challenges posed by Big Data are so large that it might trump any potential benefits.  The surveillance possibilities permitted by data today, he noted, “could leave George Orwell in the dust.”

Whether privacy challenges should trump how we use data or vice versa, there is an obvious need for organizations and society at large to address what we hope to achieve with Big Data—and what we are willing to take off the table. In that spirit, FPF is joining with the Stanford Center on Internet and Society to host a day-long event this fall to tackle how best to bring together the value of data with the value of personal privacy. There should be some room for agreement.  As Lohr notes, “corporate executives and privacy experts agree that the best way forward combines new rules and technology tools.”

Yet Big Data may require us to have a bigger discussion about how personal data is used.  In response to research posted on Monday that concluded that anonymized data in the context of day-to-day location tracking can be re-identified with relative ease, David Mayer declares on GigaOM today that we need a “new realpolitik” for data privacy:

We are not going to stop all this data collection, so we need to develop workable guidelines for protecting people. Those developing data-centric products also have to start thinking responsibly – and so do the privacy brigade. Neither camp will entirely get its way: there will be greater regulation of data privacy, one way or another, but the masses will also not be rising up against the data barons anytime soon.

As Mayer concedes, it is impossible to stop our ever-increasing data collection capabilities, and even if we could, it would likely be to our greater detriment.  While our legal constructs tend to view privacy as a binary all-or-nothing concept, our Big Data reality suggests that privacy be viewed as a spectrum in which benefits are weighed against the specter of the dictatorship of data. Who is doing what, for what purpose and for what benefit are important considerations, and it is past time for policy makers to begin engaging with these questions in earnest.

Big Data and Privacy: Making Ends Meet Conference

Big Data and Privacy: Making Ends Meet

Solutions to many pressing economic and societal challenges may be found in better understanding data, from safer cities to cleaner air, but as the amount and variety of data collection continues to increase, our data-driven society also poses serious concerns about infringements on privacy.  The need for a way forward is evident, and both corporate executives and privacy experts see a solution in a mixture of new rules and new technological tools.

In the spirit of bringing together Big Data and Privacy, the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) and the Stanford Center for Internet and Society (CIS) organized a day-long workshop on September 10th, 2013 at:

Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center

901 K Street NW

Washington, DC 20001

Rayid Ghani, co-founder of Edgeflip, an analytics startup building social media analytics products for non-profits and social good organizations, and the former Chief Scientist at the Obama for America 2012 campaign, provided a keynote address.

Jennifer Stoddart, Privacy Commissioner of Canada, provided brief closing remarks.

Tentative Schedule:

This event was preceded by a call for papers, which were selected into four topic areas.

9:00-9:05                           Quick Introduction

9:05-10:15 AM                  Framing Big Data and Privacy

General discussion of policy frameworks and thinking about Big Data.


Other recommended papers:


10:15-10:30                      Coffee break

10:30-11:45 AM             Social Ramifications of Big Data

Discussion about how society and social order is being changed by ubiquitous data collection and use.


11:45-1:00 PM                   Lunch + Keynote


1:00-2:15 PM                     Government Use of Big Data

Discussion about government use of data—what limitations should be put in place?  How can government use data better?


2:15-2:30                            Refreshment break

2:30-3:45 PM                   New Legal Regimes for Data Governance

Discussion about how law/regulations can be adapted to what’s “new” about Big Data. 

  • Dennis HirschProfessor of Law, Capital University Law School (discussing The Glass House Effect)
  • Justin Brookman, Director, Consumer Privacy, Center for Democracy & Technology (discussing Why Collection Matters with G.S. Hans)
  • Michael Donohue, Senior Policy Analyst, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
  • Christian Fjeld, Senior Counsel, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee
  • Felix Wu, Associate Professor, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law (discussing Big Data Threats)
  • Christopher WolfCo-Chair, Future of Privacy Forum (Moderator)


Other recommended papers:

3:45-5:00 PM                      Technological Solutions – and Challenges

Discussion of Big Data’s challenges from a technical perspective.  How can technology and PETs be used to alleviate concerns about Big Data’s risks? And maximize its benefits?


Other recommended papers:


5:00 PM                   Closing Remarks


5:15 PM                   Reception at Microsoft Innovation & Policy Center

Generous sponsorship provided by the following:




For sponsorship opportunities, please contact Barbara Kelly at [email protected].