Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Lessons from the Identity Trail: Anonymity, Privacy and Identity in a Networked Society - review

"Lessons from the Identity Trail: Anonymity, Privacy and Identity in a Networked Society", a book edited by Ian Kerr, Valerie Steeves and Carole Lucock, came out earlier this year, in March 2009, but doesn't seem to have received as much attention as I feel it deserves, so I am blogging about it.

The book is available for free download under a Creative Commons licence, as well as for purchase in hard copy: Lessons from the Identity Trail: Anonymity, Privacy and Identity in a Networked Society.

It's an interesting multi-disciplinary review of issues in, as it says on the tin, anonymity, privacy and identity on the internet, in ubiquitous computing, given the use of RFID, data mining, biometrics, etc. There are chapters on economics, sociology, philosophy and feminism as well as law and computing - and even song lyrics!

Another positive feature is that it is multi-jurisdictional. The editors are in Canada so the main focus is on Canadian aspects (and in my view Canada is more advanced and enlightened than most when it comes to privacy issues), but there is also coverage from the perspectives of the United States and UK as well as other countries.

Especially interesting to me were Chapter 1 Soft Surveillance, Hard Consent: The Law and Psychology of Engineering Consent by Ian Kerr, Jennifer Barrigar, Jacquelyn Burkell, and Katie Black and Chapter 4 A Heuristics Approach to Understanding Privacy-Protecting Behaviors in Digital Social Environments by Robert Carey and Jacquelyn Burkell.

Human psychology is clearly vital to understanding how people act, how they deal with issues that impact on their privacy e.g. the well known privacy paradox, and these chapters in particular triggered some Eureka moments in me.

For instance, is your consent to the collection and use of your private data truly "free and informed" if its giving (and subsequent lack of withdrawal) has been engineered or manipulated through a cunning knowledge of human psychology - cognitive dissonance, prospect theory, discounted subjective utility etc? Should this sort of engineering be regulated?

The final part contains analyses of anonymity under the laws of, separately, the United States, Canada, UK, Netherlands and Italy.

A fascinating read, and well worth a skim at least. Again: the download link.

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