Can We Save Our Online Freedom?


Jaap-Henk Hoepman

Jaap-Henk Hoepman

Jaap-Henk Hoepman started his talk with a few short definitions of privacy. It is seen as the right to be let alone, the right to informational self-determination, as freedom of unreasonable constraints of one’s identity and as contextual integrity. He then showed us that there are three types of data/information: volunteered, observed and (more and more) inferred.

Privacy is important for:

  • prevention of information-based harm (like guns, information might kill people)
  • preventation of informational inequality (the “market” of information, non-discrimination)
  • prevention of informational injustice (spheres of privacy must be protected)
  • respect for moral autonomy (people change)

Jaap-Henk considers privacy to be a societal value, not just a personal value. It is an important value you need in a democratic society. To tell this story well, we need the right metaphor. He doesn’t think Orwell’s Big Brother or Chandler’s The Little Sister will do the trick. He prefer Kafka’s The Trial as a story that can help people understand what can go wrong when you don’t value privacy.

Why is freedom so hard to keep? We give away our information to large centralized companies that keep our data in silos/walled garden. We are afraid that if we don’t give away our information we can’t be secure in our society. Politicians need to make sure something bad doesn’t happen on their watch and find it hard to make reasonable choices. Snowden has shown how intelligence agencies are letting corporations capture and aggregate data and then get it from them. The United States has thrown trust down the drain.

He does think we can stop this. In the 50s and 60s the situation around pollution was very bad. Companies just did with their waste whatever they wanted to do because pollution was just an externality. Through legislation pollution became an internality and we are doing much better in this space. We can change the systems and mechanisms behind privacy in a similar way.

One of the first things we need to do is to accept that there is risk. Living means taking risks. Governments should make privacy infringement an internal cost, require openness and transparency, outlaw silos and even outlaw certain business models.

Us system designers and technologist we can make better designed systems (think: code = law): privacy by design. It is important to make all the technology really user-friendly and work well. The functionality needs to be as good as the systems. There are good starts with things like Tor, Cryptocat, IRMA, TeamDrive and DuckDuckGo.

He has some personal annoyances that he would like everybody to work on:

  • The functionality and the social network should be separate (he doesn’t want to keep creating a new contact list for every application).
  • Where is the Peer 2 Peer cloud (it isn’t trivial to do this for the end-user yet)?
  • There should be true modularity, allowing you to pick the components you want to use.
  • Where are the great collaboration tools and social networks?