Although the Darklight Symposia weren’t quite like the bar in Cheers where everybody knows your name, there was a lot of familiar names and faces at this event. A good sign for Darklight because it means that they touched a chord with the topics they chose and also attracted a respected panellists. I attended the first symposium of the day “Letting it all hang out: Privacy vs. Publicity in the Virtual World” and caught the very end of the second “Web 3.0: Where next for the Internet”. Brendan Hughes, chair of the IIA Social Media Working Group gives a good overview of the topics on his own blog. The festival continued in venues around Dublin all weekend.
I was particularly interested in the first symposium they ran this morning. Regular readers might recall that I was at another seminar last month about privacy in the Institute of International and European Affairs. While the two audiences were very different (Peter Fleischer from Google would not have been making jokes about Google employees non-tie-wearing* at today’s event, let me encapsulate it like that!) they had many of the same concerns albeit from a different angle. There was a strong sense of “us” and “them” to many of the comments from the floor. “Us” seemed to refer to the private citizen and “them” to anyone who wasn’t; but even “them” is made up of private citizens who have rights too; among them a right to earn a living. Also “them” variously referred to businesses and government: businesses who are retaining data about those using their services; governments using that data to for crime-fighting purposes. However there was little acknowledgement of the fact that those companies were generally obliged by those governments to keep that information but also to protect it. And where does the government get the mandate to oblige those companies to keep AND to protect it? From this “us”. However it would be disingenuous not to acknowledge that many of the concerns in the room were about the lack of disclosure about and access to exactly what information certain larger internet companies are retaining about individuals and their use of their services.
Businesses are, of course, not without their influence when it comes to data-protection policies. Involvement in bodies like the IIA allows businesses to come together and debate these issues and present a united view to the government. It is also essential that businesses remain aware of their obligations under data protection and privacy legislation and the IIA hopes to keep businesses abreast of these issues.
The keynote speaker was Daniel J. Solove, Associate Professor of law at the George Washington University Law School, and the author of “The Digital Person: Technology and Privacy In The Information Age”. This book can be downloaded for free from www.futureofreputation.com Chaired by solicitor and digital rights expert Caroline Campbell, the panel included journalist Jim Carroll, Hotline.ie director Cormac Callanan, Relevant Media owner Niall Larkin and Irish blogger Damien Mulley. The audience was made up of a mix of bloggers, developers, researchers, consultants and policy makers.
* Tie-wearing: I recall being irked at the IIEA seminar because Fleischer made a flip comment about how he could spot his Google colleagues a mile off because they were always the ones not wearing ties. This annoyed me because I had spoken to one of his colleagues earlier and SHE was most definitely not wearing a tie and probably never does. Similarly Annette Clancy from Inter-Actions, who I was sitting beside at the Darklight symposium on Friday, made a point from the floor that there were no women (bar the chair) on the panel on Friday and this was the case in both of the sessions. Working for an organisation that is constantly seeking good speakers and presenters for a variety of event types I understand the Darklight’s conundrum when they approach people and some of them are unavailable and unfortunately that effects the gender balance on their panel. Similarly I appreciate the viewpoint that to deliberately seek women because they are women could be just as sexist as not having women at all. However I do tend more to the side that it is essential that all aspects of a question are discussed. Women experience and use technology differently and for different purposes to men. I’m sure there’s research to back this up and would appreciate any links to same. Annette said to me later that one issue that was not discussed, and she feels, that this was due to the lack of women on the panel, was the issue of privacy and cyber-stalking. While this may not be solely experienced by women, if virtual life reflects real life chances are the majority of its victims are women.
Is the virtual life experience of women and their absence from some fora a reflection of the real life experience of women in technology and business? Why are the women unavailable? Where is the brave new world that the internet promises to all of us?