Archives for posts with tag: privacy

A random newsflash I stumbled upon yesterday: “The majority (54%) of consumers in Germany forecast cash to become obsolete in a few years and they prefer contactless.”. Form personal experience I can confirm that more and more people are paying by card in the Netherlands as well. In fact, increasingly shops stop accepting cash. This is a problem, from a privacy and autonomy perspective.

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Kenteken parkeren is een plaag. Op steeds meer plekken kun je niet meer een simpel parkeerkaartje kopen en achter het raam van je auto plakken. Nee, je moet je kenteken invoeren in de parkeermeter, en gemeentelijke parkeerwachters rijden met auto’s met nummerplaatherkenning over de straten en parkeerterreinen om zwartparkeerders automatisch een boete te geven. En passant heeft de gemeente een totaal overzicht van wie waar hoe lang geparkeerd staat. Mijns inziens een onevenredige inbreuk op mijn privacy.

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Als je in een jaar duidelijk meer (of minder) hebt verdiend dan andere jaren, dan kan het soms uit om middeling van je inkomstenbelasting aan te vragen. Door naderhand de inkomstenbelasting te herberekenen over het gemiddelde inkomen over drie aaneengesloten jaren, kan deze duidelijk lager uitvallen. Veel mensen weten dit niet. En het vervelende is: je moet het zelf op tijd uitrekenen en schriftelijk aanvragen, zonder kekke rekenhulp met vooraf ingevulde gegevens. Anders kun je naar je geld fluiten.

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Palantir is a platinum sponsor for the 2018 edition Amsterdam Privacy Conference (APC). Because of Palantir’s very poor (privacy) reputation several scholars cancelled their participation. And a petition was started (called ‘Funding Matters’) that calls for

  1. The discontinuation of Palantir’s sponsorship of the Amsterdam Privacy Conference,
  2. Organizers and participants alike to engage in an action-oriented discussion on corporate funding of academic events,
  3. The development of rigorous criteria and guidelines for corporate sponsorship, for example, based on Human Rights Impact Assessments.

I agree, funding matters. (Not only when organising conferences, but also when doing research, by the way.) But I am afraid that I cannot sign the petition as it currently stands. Even though I care about this issue a lot. In fact, it’s because I care about this issue a lot.

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Last sunday, journalists from The Correspondent revealed that it was trivially easy to find the names and addresses of military and intelligence service personnel that use Polar, a popular runners wearable and fitness app. All runs (even private ones) made by owners of a Polar fitness device are stored on a central server, and can be viewed on a map. Even though the user interface restricted access to only public runs, bypassing the user interface and entering URLs manually allowed them to extract all runs made by anyone since 2014. Polar switched off access to the map recently to prevent further abuse of this. What can we learn from this incident?
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In mijn columns en blogposts heb ik veel geschreven over de impact van technologie op onze samenleving. Vaak ging het om het beschermen van onze persoonlijke levenssfeer. Over hoe bedrijven als Facebook en Google, maar ook onze overheid, steeds meer over ons weten, waardoor we steeds voorspelbaarder en steeds weerlozer worden. En hoe het privacyvriendelijk ontwerpen van systemen hier een broodnodig tegenwicht aan zou kunnen bieden.

Maar het probleem is breder dan alleen privacy.

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(This is a provocation for the workshop “10 Years Of Profiling The European Citizen”, June 12-13, 2018, Brussels, for the panel on “Transparency theory for data driven decision making”)


Perhaps Louis Brandeis can be considered the father of all transparency theory because of this famous quote of his:

“Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

Indeed transparency is commonly seen as an important tool to counter the ill effects of automated, data driven, decision making.

But I cannot fail to wonder: what if the sun does not shine?…. Wouldn’t that render transparency useless? Indeed, wouldn’t that turn transparency into a perfect cover-up, allowing organisations to hide in plain sight, pretending not to be engaged in any nefarious activities?

Below I will discuss the limits of transparency and discuss six different reasons why transparency by itself is not enough. First, transparency only helps if there are enough experts to verify the information provided. Second, transparency is useless if subjects do not have agency and have no meaningful way to challenge a decision. Third, transparency requirements may be subverted or sidestepped by providing information in an opaque way. Fourth, certain decision making process are hard to explain to begin with. Fifth, a decision may be hard to challenge because scrutinising the decision requires domain expertise and sufficient (computational) resources. And finally, transparency may conflict with business or government interests.

These six arguments are presented in detail below, followed by a brief conclusion.

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