Too much information

On day two of my week of blogging every day on what is niggling and making me think (see yesterday’s post if you are confused) I am going to write about a topic of daily discussion with colleagues and people in the digital industry and see if there is any more light to be shared on all this.

We seem to find ourselves in a world of over-communication, over-sharing and in the battle cry of Open: too much information. I am not sure that there is anything wrong with this, but what feels iffy is the fact that – again – there seem to be not enough people out there on the horizon carving out the future for us all in the following areas:

  • personal data and rights management
  • developer fatigue

Personal data and rights management

Working as I do in the Open data world I know for a fact that we are very careful to keep the data we work with non-personal, and endeavour always to make sure that cross-referencing data will not enable identification of an individual. We also do not go anywhere near personal information. William Heath has long been *the* voice in my world for identity, a fully paid up member of the Open Rights Group and jointly owns the company Mydex. William is one of those people to whom I was referring yesterday – we need him out there on the edges of reality and I would love to hear a lot more from him about his future vision. Personal data is obviously the next big discussion, what is the personal decision making/prioritisation that happens sub-consciously when a person builds their facebook page and sets their privacy settings? Why do people say yes or no to a store card? What is the value metric for personal data? Why is everyone (almost) religiously determined to hold back personal information from government, or treat government requests for personal information with caution or even suspicion? I don’t know the answers to this – but I hope to find out more. Please do point me to people who are researching this publicly and with a horizon view (other than William!)

I also am a bit surprised that the Open Rights Group are not being clasped to the bosom of every organisation opening their data – rights management, believe you me, is the conversation du jour; and getting it right for both data owners, developers and organisations has to be one of the highest priorities. Open data and an open society needs clearly defined and refreshed rules and perhaps it is time to start Rights camp or somesuch – it seems to me that it requires the heads of many specialists to get it right, not just one group – and that is always interesting to me.

Developer fatigue

This could well deserve a post of its own, I am not sure yet, we will see. In my (slightly controversial sorry about that) post I wrote last year about developers I touched on the risk of developers turning away from publicly released data if there was an eternal demand on their free time and expertise. To an extent this is beginning to happen now and I would hope that those who are trying to solve the problem of:

We released our data but no one is playing with it, where are all the developers?

… can recognise that there is a very real requirement to engage with developers in smarter ways and to honour their work ethic and abilities. There is no need for me to re-write the developer post from last year, but developer fatigue is very real, is very much here and should be (along with rights management) something that open organisations and industries are addressing with fresh minds. I know it is my utmost priority and is not easily solved, certainly not by simply throwing cash at the problem – although that never goes amiss; but also:

  • working with their schedules and optimal way of working, this may not be 9-5
  • finding a variety of very real challenges and apparently unsolvable problems
  • realising the relevance and value of geek work and utilising that

Looking at the future landscape of a professional relationship between Open organisations and the developer community in a sustainable and respectful fashion is the main focus for me really, and I really, REALLY would love some suggestions if you have them for who is scoping this work – again the edge of reality and future world stuff – not the immediate environment.

So that’s it for today. See you tomorrow!

8 responses

  1. Thank you for unloading! There is a lot happening in identity and rights management at the moment (disclosure: I am Policy director of OpenID UK) but it’s an area that has multiple centres of gravity and multiple equilibrium points. William Heath’s Mydex is doing some very good stuff with public sector bodies; banks are doing stuff and phone companies are doing other stuff. The Open RightsGroup are doing sterling stuff, but are mainly identified with smaller rights-holders and resistance to the Digital Economy Act; and the internet identity wizards are in danger of going into a geostationary orbit around Facebook and Google, (which I think is not the right place to be, but that’s just me.) What’s a boy to do?

    • More please! I love the points you have raised and they make me want to know more, much more. Who is working in this space, can you write more about it? And thank you 🙂

  2. All Policy Directors commenting today (Disclosure: I am Policy director of DITG) LOL

    I am doing a lot of work on the “consumerisation” of ICT spends and thus cloud deployment. It is the explosion of apps that creates a pull for organisations to question their infrastructures and some organisations are recognising open source as a cost push.

    The real battlefield is on Open Standards. The digital community is built on smart foundations…not standard ones.

    Into this explodes money makers like Facebook and Twitter.

    They create so much noise that inclusive design and great open development becomes background noise.

    Count the MPs with a twitter account…Then digest the quality of their websites… ;0(

    • John, again – I really like this and yes, I agree – open standards is another part of all this. Trying to retrofit standards and rights to open information is waaaaaaaaaaay more difficult and costly (in terms of opportunity, communication and operational costs). First mover advantage has been had – now we need serious collaborative attention being paid to the cracks. If that makes sense! More please 🙂

  3. Emma – I was testing Gist and this turned up on my own profile! Cheers. But there’s lots of other good stuff and many other good people. If you want a lot of resources about what’s going on in personal data world Ctrl-Shift’s newsletter, and Delicious feed are good. Key paper for you on reidentification is Paul Ohm’s “Broken Promises of Privacy: Responding to the Surprising Failure of Anonymization”.

    • Ohm’s article is good – well, as much as I have managed to read of it so far (first 15 pages or so), but he does seem to labour under a mis-apprehension that people hadn’t realised what might constitute Personally Identifiable Information.

      When the Data Protection Act started to have an effect, we were quite clear from the definition of ‘personal data’ in the Act that it covered a wide range of pieces of information which could be pieced together to identify an individual. Now, it is true that the corporate lawyers decided that it would have too much of an impact on business if we interpreted it that strictly, a position also common to Directors and marketing types, but it is completely untrue for Ohm to say nobody would have thought of the postcode/gender/DoB triplet as being personally identifiable – it was always blatantly obviously true in the majority of cases.

      Due to this misplaced assertion, unfortunately I have had to be reading with my BS detector on heightened alert, so it is taking longer to read the rest than it should. But it does suggest that others should be wary in case some of their old anonymised data comes back to haunt them…

  4. you could do worse than ask ONS what research they have done or are planning, on reasons for non-response as part of the Census, but there is plenty of research out there on the subject of why people do or dont provide information. In fact statisticians distinguish between unit non-response [if the population of interest is households, and an entire household’s response is missing] and item non-response [where a particular item is missing, for example if a question is considered more sensitive or intrusive, such as income or religion]. There is a good deal of research on the subject [often focussed on ways to minimise non-response but also on imputation methods for missing data, or over-sampling methods for populations with lower response rates, for example in inner cities or amongst ethnic minorities].

  5. ps a couple of interesting articles about prospects for gathering data via mobile apps, in the market research world context-(it can be done but in the govt context individuals are inevitably more suspicious of what the use will be because trust in govt/politicians is relatively low, and from a research perspective there remain concerns over issues such as representativeness)

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