Privacy Models: The Next Evolution

We live in an environment where the amount of data being generated is increasing at a staggering pace. With it we see a corresponding growth in the potential for important benefits, both to us as individuals and as a society, based on using this information. However, in this data-rich world it is becoming clear that today’s privacy frameworks cannot adequately protect consumer privacy; it has become critical that we evolve our thinking with respect to the ways societies protect the privacy of individuals while providing for responsible, beneficial data use.

Identifying frameworks that support the dual goals of privacy and responsible data use is the motivation for Microsoft’s collaboration with privacy stakeholders from around the world – across governments, private enterprise and civil society. Today, we are pleased to have been able to support the launch of two new white papers: “Data Protection Principles for the 21st Century” and “Data Use and Global Impact” which outline important new thinking on this topic.

These papers represent the latest thinking in a process that began some time ago. In May 2012, we kicked off a process with privacy stakeholders to assess the current state of privacy models and frameworks, and to identify the key areas of focus for evolving them in meaningful ways. Our objective was to imagine privacy protections that might match the complexities of today’s technologies and data use. At that time, with the input of more than 80 global privacy thought leaders, Fred H. Cate, Distinguished Professor and C. Ben Dutton Professor of Law, Maurer School of Law, Indiana University and Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, issued a summary report and we identified two areas for further discussion: updating the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines on Fair Information Principles and focusing on data use as a means to address privacy risks.

Since the publication of the summary report, we have seen extensive collaboration among privacy leaders focused on both of these areas, including efforts being led by the Oxford Internet Institute at Oxford University and The Center for Information Policy Research with support by Indiana University. Today’s white papers reflect ideas requiring discussion in the privacy community as we collectively evaluate how to ensure that privacy frameworks carry meaningful protections in today’s technology-driven society.

In a world of Big Data, individuals and societies stand to benefit immensely from innovative data analysis and use, but the right privacy controls need to be in place to help protect individuals. Evolving today’s privacy models can help us responsibly realize the potential of data across diverse scenarios: Health records and lab results can drive breakthroughs in medical research; Internet search histories can help to predict outbreaks of disease; analysis of financial records can be used to detect and prevent money laundering and fraud; and online services can provide richer services and deeper engagement for individuals.

At Microsoft, we are committed to partnering with privacy leaders from around the world to envision the next iteration of privacy models and are encouraged at the broad level of engagement we are already seeing. Together we are starting down a path to help ensure that future privacy models and corresponding legislative frameworks protect the needs of individuals while encouraging responsible societal use. Ultimately, we need solutions that support the evolving needs of regulators, business and most importantly consumers.

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