This post is a slightly more structured version of the report I presented at the end of the first day, with the slides available here. It’s reconstructed from speaking notes and is presented to give virtual attendees a chance to sample my dubious words of wisdom. I should add that I’m very happy to receive comments either on the presentations or indeed on questions that you think we are not addressing, and undertake to incorporate as many of them as I can into my report at the end of day two. So please do add comments and questions to this post!
The use of social media and various technologies by the conference participants (tag idp2009) has been useful, but it also underlines the importance of being critical friends rather than unabashed fans. With the experience of many attendees in the use of social networking sites, as well as the research and regulatory dimensions that others are familiar with, there is a strong responsibility on each person to highlight problems, potential gaps in the legal or political systems, and long-term implications. So far, we have seen this done in particular through questions from the audience. However, we cannot forget (and this was underlined through a show of hands) that we, the conference participants, are more likely to understand (and amend) our privacy settings than the public at large…
If someone had come along from the EU’s fabled Article 29 Working Party, they would most likely have shed a few tears of joy at just how influential its recent recommendation on online social networking (5/2009) has been, particularly the explanation given by Esther Mitjans. It has shaped the terms of our debate today, and while WP documents are not necessarily accurate predictors of further legislative action, it stands for itself as an important part of the debate, though with the note expressed by some questioners in the third session of the day that aspects of it may be unrealistic. There are good links here with Antoni Roig’s discussion of ethical engineering and how this is reflected in the opinion.
James Grimmelmann’s keynote address asked us (or wondered if we should or how we could) save Facebook, based on his forthcoming Iowa Law Review piece. Setting out the possible harms and the available solutions, he was conscious of the way in which users can pose threats to each other, but also of the weaknesses of quick legal solutions.
The reason that this conference comes at such a useful time is highlighted by how three news stories in the UK that have been published in the past 24 hours illustrate the academic questions that we have been discussing. These stories were: the disclosure that the new head of intelligence service MI6 (yes, the James Bond one) is the subject of family photos published on Facebook by his wife [an illustration of social risk assessment as presented by Grimmelmann but also of just how pervasive ‘youth’-driven social networks are outside their core constituency!], the announcement that Phorm has lost its agreement with ISP BT to use deep packet inspection to provide contextual advertising [showing the power of privacy activism, usefully compared with the fuss on Facebook Beacon that Grimmelmann relied on so clearly, but also the unresolved issue of monetising that Barbara Navarro was very honest about], and finally the decision of the Press Complaints Commission that the Sunday Express should not have published its controversial story on the ‘Dunblane survivors’ based on publicly available Facebook profiles [the background to which can only be understood after hearing Antoni Roig’s dissection of human dignity as a fundamental right and Franck Dumortier’s analysis of decontextualisation and Facebook].