Semantic and linked data technologies aim at supporting the integrated use and sense-making of distributed, heterogeneous information sources. Naturally, the most direct connection with privacy is to think of the possible issues: how data integration can be used to put together disconnected pieces of personal data, and sense-making to malevolently infer more private information from various, non-malevolent sources.
However, one of our main arguments here is that the same data integration and sense-making abilities can be used to the benefit of individual users in understanding and, to a certain extent, controlling the dissemination of their private information. Said very simply, if as Fried said, Privacy is “control we have over information about ourselves“, what is required is the ability to track what we share, integrate the different channels through which we share information, and make sense of the implications.
Social translucence argues that, in social systems, to achieve coherent behaviors, it is necessary for the system to make such behaviors visible and understandable to the users. In other terms, in order to act rationally, you have to be able to see and understand what you do. Now, if we think of our goal as enabling users in achieving coherent behaviors with respect to the dissemination of their private information, what follows is that we need to be able to integrate all the information about such behaviors, and make sense of them in terms of their privacy consequences. Here, we see the connection with semantic technologies – building such privacy mirrors for web social platforms, or even all of our privacy-impacting activities on the web requires the processing of very large amounts of information of diverse origins in a way which is meaningful to the user.
This reflection, and examples of early tools that demonstrate it, is elaborated in the paper Semantic Web Technologies for Social Translucence and Privacy Mirrors on the Web to be presented next week at the PrivOn workshop (collocated with the ISWC 2013 conference). The next post will focus more on these and other tools.