Sunday, 23 March 2014

Not quite as naive about privacy as before

A while back I wrote an article on how were we being naive about privacy in that we're all talking about the subject but no-one seems to be actually asking the question of what it is.

In order to answer this we've* taken an ontological approach by decomposing concepts into things such as information type, security class, jurisdiction, purpose, usage, provenance etc. All those concepts which make sense to the engineers who have to build information systems.

*Ora Lassila (he of RDF fame) has had a pretty big (huge!) hand in all of this too. Hey! We even got demonstration and prototype implementations working!

No work like this is even done in isolation - ontological approaches aren't new and certainly security, privacy, risk management etc have been tackled in one way or another - Solove, Schneier just to name two big names and a host of other researchers along too.

Now this is where I have a lot of hope: there is quite a bit a work in this area - that is, formalising concepts of privacy and in particular risk and risk avoidance in this ontological manner. There's even work on matching ontologies together. We start to see the real, fundamental structure of privacy and its conceptual basis.

What this means in the long term (and even the short!) is that we have a common terminological and semantic framework from lawyers to programmers coming into place.

We're missing some parts of course: how do all these ontologies fit together?  Can we unify the notions of consent used by lawyers with the [boolean] data types used by programmers?

"Your privacy is important to us"

bool optedIn = False  //sensible default

Actually we do in part - myself and Ora did develop quite a nice unification framework to link the ontologies together, link with the idea of information, link it with the notions of database table, CSV structures, classes etc; and even link it with how systems such as HADOOP process data.

So this gets me to a few places:
  1. There is work on this being made - various groups are developing ontologies to express relevant concepts about information and aspects of information
  2. Some groups are unifying those and drawing out subtle semantic differences
  3. Some groups are applying these to more abstract areas such as the notions of consent and notice and how these may be made more meaningful to machines, and I hope humans too


Cena, Dokoohaki, Matskin. (2011) Forging Trust and Privacy with User Modeling Frameworks: An Ontological Analysis. STICS2011 (Draft)

Anya Kim and Jim Luo and Myong Kang (2005) Security Ontology for Annotating Resources. Research Lab, NRL Memorandum Report, pp51.

Kost, Freytag, Kargl, Kung. Privacy Veriļ¬cation using Ontologies

Golnaz Elahi, Eric Yu, Nicola Zannone (2009) A Modeling Ontology for Integrating Vulnerabilities into Security Requirements Conceptual Foundations?

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