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ODDC Web Meetings: Ethical issues in open data: privacy - August 1st

As we’ve been getting the ODDC project up and running we’ve been hosting a series of web meetings with project partners to get to know each other, and to talk about research issues. In coming months we’re planning to hold thematic web meetings, focussing on different issues relevant to open data research, and that fit into our evolving research framework.

We’ll be exploring how to open up these meetings beyond the ODDC network alone, so if you are interested in taking part in any of the upcoming web meetings, please do get in touch.

August 1st, 11am GMT: Ethical issues in open data: privacy

Panelists: Carly Nyst and Sam Smith, Privacy International & Steve Song, Advisor to IDRC Information & Networks programme. 

Advocates of open data often describe the term as covering only ‘non personal’ data: data that can be freely shared without threatening the privacy of individuals. However, the boundary between personal and non-personal data is not always straightforward. For example, hospital records are about both the patient, and about the surgeon and hospital; and whilst in some cultures information about wages earned may be considered private, information on the wages of public officials has been amongst the data published in a number of open data initiatives. Oftentimes privacy concerns have been addressed by aggregating data, or making it anonymous, yet this can reduce the usefulness of the data to re-users who are prevented from digging into individual cases.

Anonymisation also has it’s problems: as more datasets become available ‘jigsaw re-identification’ becomes possible, as different datasets can be pieced together to reveal facts about individuals. Some have proposed that these risks are dealt with my making it a criminal offense to misuse data, but this may do little in practice to protect those who cannot bring a legal case, or when abuse of open data takes place across national borders. On the other hand, poorly specified ‘privacy concerns’ are often used as a reasons to hold back from releasing data that should be provided to citizens, and so negotiating a balance between privacy and openness is a key challenge in developing open data policy. 

The existence, quality and implementation of data protection legislation, protecting individual rights to control data about them, varies across the world. Little is yet written about the role of data protection frameworks in supporting or limiting the development of open data. Cultural views on privacy also vary across the world: suggesting that there might not be a one-size-fits-all approach to be taken to privacy. 

This Web Meeting will explore how privacy and open data agendas collide across the developing world. Register here to take part. Priority will be given to participants from the ODDC and Privacy in the Developing World networks. 

This joint web meeting will be run by the Web Foundation’s Exploring the Emerging Impacts of Open Data in Developing Countries project, with Privacy International’s Privacy in the Developing World network. Both projects are funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre

The meeting will open with brief introductions to each project and then each speaker will offer a 5 - 10 minute introduction, followed by comments from the chair, and questions from participants on the call.

Background reading:

Issues to think about:

  • What datasets does your project deal with that might be considered to be personal or sensitive data? 
  • Has privacy come up as a theme in any of your research so far? What issues have been raised?