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Research improves consumer understanding of information privacy and consent

Posted on 20/08/2008
Researchers from the world-renowned Information Security Group (ISG) at Royal Holloway, University of London, are participating in a collaborative project with consent and privacy specialists at Salford and Cranfield Universities, Consult Hyperion and Sunderland City Council, to explore how people engage with concepts of information privacy and consent in on-line interactions.

Many people providing personal information over the internet or telephone do not fully understand the issues of privacy and consent in their interactions with information and communications technology. Consequently they are not able adequately to assess the risks they run and organisations cannot develop services which adequately address users’ privacy and consent needs.

The ‘Visualisation and Other Means of Expression’ project (VOME) is a £2m project co-funded by the Technology Strategy Board, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and Economic and Social Research Council. Social scientists and computer scientists from academia and industry will develop alternative conceptual models of on-line privacy which enable users to make clearer on-line disclosure choices. These decision-making models will facilitate a better dialogue between the designers of privacy and consent functionality and their customers.

′The project aims to develop an interactive mental model that enables people from all walks of life to interact with on-line privacy and consent issues, in the same way that the concept of carbon footprinting has enabled large parts of society to engage in the subject of the environment,′ comments Lizzie Coles-Kemp, Project Leader from the ISG.

Cranfield University lead researcher, Debi Ashenden, adds: ′With the Home Office estimating the cost of identity threat to the UK economy as £1.7billion a year, protecting our identity and personal information has never been more important.

There is a concern that the ordinary citizen isn’t clear about the intrinsic value of their unique identity and they aren’t engaging in current debates about these issues. So, our research is going to be exposing various people to different ways of exploring privacy and consent issues to find out how they think about their identity and what decisions they make, and we hope the outcome will be to capture better requirements for identity management tools.′

Dave Birch of Consult Hyperion says, ′An essential characteristic of a good digital identity infrastructure it that supports informed consent. The problem that I hope that we will be able to address through the VOME project is that people can′t make informed consent unless they are able to understand privacy, the spectrum of choice available to them and the implications of choices they make.′

The research will be put to the test in real life scenarios; one of the project partners, Sunderland City Council, has implemented a regional, federated identity initiative for the north-east of England, enabling citizens to gain access to shared services provided by the public and private sector. The Council will work with the VOME team to produce a new set of tools – such as role-play games or narrative puzzles - to help youth support workers clarify how the information will be used and safeguarded in the hope of engaging more young people.

For further information contact the Project Leader, Lizzie Coles-Kemp lizzie.coles-kemp@rhul.ac.uk


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