Last week I chaired the Privacy as Innovation II workshop at the Internet Governance Forum in Istanbul (the Privacy and Innovation I workshop we held at IGF 2013, Bali).

While last years’ workshop was addressing a more general level concerning the way in which privacy is framed and discussed in policymaking and business development today (See also talk at the Indie Tech Summit concerning that topic here), this year’s workshops’ aim was to dig a little deeper. We wanted to move beyond seeing privacy purely as a concept and to be more practical. That is to discuss: when can we really talk about privacy in innovation?

As it is, privacy as a concept has gone through different stages of “popularity” (More about this in this op ed). An early stage in which privacy and “anonymity” was described as the unique opportunity to experiment with identity and challenge, under its protection, established forms of power, and constituted market models. A second stage in which online privacy gained a bad reputation, named and blamed for a lot of things from being a cover for illegal activities to being an obstacle to innovation juxtaposed to everything “social”, “open”, “public and shared” and for that reason contrasted to open innovation in “cloud services”, “Big Data”, “social media” and so on. (Some have even at this stage announced privacy dead). And now the third stage. The one we are at the heart of right now. Pushed forward by the Snowden revelations, but also by emerging changes in user patterns. A paradigm shift where users, while embracing the potential offered by online social media, at the same time demand to be able to set their own boundaries and to create circles of inclusion and exclusion.

Now, the last couple of years and particularly this year, we hear more frequently about services, networks, businesses and innovations that directly address user privacy, data protection and anonymity (I tweet the names of the ones I encounter under the hashtag #privacyasinnovation). Many of these are build on truly ethical ideas about user privacy and the relation between people and the institutions of society. Others might only be grapping the business opportunity, addressing the consumer demand and using the concept of privacy for marketing reasons.

Key conclusions:

Several key conclusions came out of this years’ Privacy as Innovation workshop put forward by a number of brillant speakers (Aral Balkan, Hanane Boujemi, Bart Willem Schermer, Arda Gerkens, Gitte Stald, Pernille Tranberg)including a valuable perspective from a panel of five young people and some very active workshop participants:

1. We adressed a need to reframe the conversation about privacy in policymaking and particularly in business evolution. Privacy should not be viewed in opposition to innovation, but as a natural component adressing user demands for choice and control. That is to say, privacy is not only a concept but a sollution that adresses both user demands to control their content online with peers as well as the way in which businesses handle user data backstage. Privacy innovation needs to take into account data ownership, big data ethics, alternative business models, financial control, as well as user demands for convenience.

2. User demands needs to be taken into account. Users will choose convenience over privacy and thus innovation must adress both. Choice and control was equated with privacy by the youth participants who primarily use the most commonly known social media services as a main plat form for their public lives and development of identity. Generally they do not know how there data is used by the services they use. And some expressed a concern and uncertAinty about is. But they accept this as a precondition for being able to participate.

3. There is a need for a social and econonomic investment in alternative sollutions build on alternative business models and privacy by design. To create a surveillance proof technological environment that as a priority strengthens the enforcement of human rights (the right to privacy), not the surveillance on a blanket scale.

4. There are too many interpretations of the prerequisite privacy standards that clouds the outcome and not enough alternative or truly innovative ideas of how privacy can be incorporated into digital media business development. (But let’s not get absorbed in the different interpretations but reach an agreement on core organizing principles. “Privacy is a cultural contruct: Now what’s next?”)

5. There is a need for an international level playing field of privacy principles (as co- moderator Bart Willem Schermer also advocates here and other places). There is a very specific need for a more detailed guideline, internationally agreed upon standards, regarding the right to privacy, because business decisions today are core to the implementation of the right to privacy.

6. We will continue the work and exchange of knowledge. I already have a list of people interested in this and will soon create a list to initiate a “Privacy as Innovation” network. Please send me an email if you want to participate. If we have the ressources and the support we will have a “Privacy as Innovation III” workshop at the next IGF which will be held in Brasil 2015.

The workshop was organized by the Danish Media Council, the Dutch platform ECP and the IT University of Copenhagen.

See the summary, background paper and the video (still not available) from the session here

Recaps from speakers at the session:

Aral Balkan: “Privacy as Innovation”

Bart Willem Schermer: “Privacy as innovation: prerequisites for successful privacy innovation”


Thank you for the photos Lovisa Inserra from