For a whole hour following European Commissioner for Justice, Viviane Reding, privacy was the hot topic at the DLD12 conference, with speakers and panelists sparring over this sensitive issue.
Dean Hachamovitch, corporate vice president of Microsoft (pictured above), started off the hour by demonstrating the tracking protection device built in Internet Explorer 9. Explaining that “not all tracking is bad tracking”, he said that IE9 allows users to adopt specific privacy criteria.
According to Hachamovitch, improving privacy on the Web will require cooperation between governments, entrepreneurs, the media and consumers groups. One way IE9 fosters this cooperation is by allowing privacy groups and users to create lists for tracking protection. It has been a real success, he said. Starting with half a dozen, the number of lists rose to more than 20 worldwide. Hachamovitch cited the example of Simon Davies and Alexander Hanff, two privacy advocates, who release tracking protection lists aimed specifically at shielding children from inappropriate content.
Andrew Keen, author of “Digital Vertigo: An Anti-Social Manifesto”, then took to the stage. With a sense of irony, he started by quoting Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg: “this shift to authenticity will take getting used to and will elicit cries of lost privacy”.
“Well I am one of the criers,” he said. He admitted that “we can’t be conservative and go back to the old world, but we have to realise the danger of this new world.” Citing the dangers of oppressive governments, online companies turning a profit by selling user data and “democratic totalitarianism”, he said “we are becoming our own Big Brother”. Keen’s solution: rehabilitating solitude. “We need to learn to live on our own,” he concluded.
The panel then started with Christopher Poole (4chan and Canv.as), Stefan Gross-Selbeck (Xing) and Sebastian Nerz (Pirate Party), moderated by Nick Bilton from the New York Times. Nerz emphasized the importance of our times: “for the first time in history, we have to make the decision for ourselves about what constitutes privacy”.
Poole (left) listening to Gross-Selbeck during the panel
To the question of whether social media should allow anonymity online, Poole, a vocal defender of this cause, said “it is always good if people have the option.” Gross-Selbeck was more prone to following the logic of the market. “We should leave it to the market: if there’s a demand for anonymity online, there will be products made to meet this demand.” For Nerz (pictured below), it is clear that “there is no real freedom of speech without anonymity online”.
During the concluding segment, the question of selling personal data to advertisers popped up again. Gross-Selbeck begged for “not more regulations in Europe, but smarter regulation” insisting on the fact that “data is the oil of the 21st century”.