Who should manage privacy in the age of Ubiquitous Computing?

It's clear that privacy is a concern in today’s web 2.0 world; the postDoes Google's flu-tracker raise privacy issues?’  on this blog talks about Google's ability to mine data and its potential impact on privacy. This is a valid concern, but may appear insignificant  in the future, when simply walking across an airport, or even an office floor, could confirm your identify, highlight your political sympathies and provide your state of health to the management via an imperceptible event.

Ubiquitous Computing , described by Mark Weiser almost 20 years ago in the article entitled 'Ubiquitous Computing #1' , sets out this new age of imperceptible computing. One major premise of Ubiquitous Computing , or Ubicomp, is that  the computing process will become almost invisible- this is because the falling cost of the micro-processors means that they can be inserted into the built environment at almost no cost. The insertion of these computers into the fabric of the built environment in which we live would allow computation to flourish away from the PC- a huge  development considering the extent to which we depend on the PC today .

So how could the computational power of Ubicomp be utilised? Imagine you are walking across your office lobby. Firstly the smart floor identifies who you are, and thus determines where you work -for example office 12, floor 48. The express lift door would open as you approach and whisk you off to floor 48 without so much as a button press. Of course, in the meantime, your office heating has come on, your coffee machine has powered up and the status of your inbox is being presented to you as you walk along the corridor in the scenery of the pictures on the wall- lots of bonfires and you’ll get the hint as to what you’re about to walk into.

The Ubicomp world is enormously interesting and many commentators believe that it’s already on its way. However, it presents a challenge to the level of control that individuals have over their own privacy. What should happen if, for instance, your combined data presents a picture to your employer that he deems to be damaging? Think Virgin Atlantic's Facebook fiasco without the need for Facebook.

It appears that Ubicomp is going to happen, but this raises questions about who will manage the data, and who will control privacy and the rights of individuals. Given that TELCOs provide the network backbone, would they be a better choice to manage the data than the Government, or  a non-elected organisation ?

TELCOs have the capability to filter data travelling across interconnected networks, could they provide the answer and control the data and execute the privacy levels set by the users in the same way they manage firewall policies? Could you choose to allow all data flow and benefit from that, or would you want only a subset of your data to flow and put up with having to swipe your ID badge and press the button for floor 48.

Nicolas Jacquey
Rob Evans

Rob is the Group Head for Telecoms Sourcing for Western Europe and the Nordics and manages a team providing all aspects of Telecoms sourcing to Orange Business.  Rob owns the Commercial relationship with major carriers across Europe on behalf of Orange Business.  Cost reduction, re-negotiation, competitiveness and subsequent impact on country P&L are key activities that Rob drives across Western Europe.