James Governor's Monkchips

On The Value of Personal and Corporate Privacy

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I am lucky enough to be sitting here next to Michelle Dennedy, Sun’s chief privacy officer, at a panel of Sun chief technology officers. 

Before the session started (and I should finish up fast because there is some serious brainpower talking to us right now) we had been discussing the nature of privacy, and like me, Michelle believes that it is a concept that goes beyond the personal. Many in what was “the privacy community” have moved on- considering that data governance is a more useful way to think about issues of information flow and risk. But I think privacy has legs still, because its something that we all have a view on, whether its privacy is dead, get over it, or privacy is all important.

Terry Sigle, who is working for Michelle, recently asked a really interesting question on his blog – What Does Privacy Mean To You?

Terry isn’t looking for the opinions of security or identity specialists but anyone. As Michelle pointed out to me, kids have some great insights (out of the mouths of babes).

Her own little girl came up with a brilliant take on privacy and what it is:

Privacy is like grass, she told her mom. Why asked Michelle? Because it keeps the dirt from being naked…  

I, for one, would love to see some more responses so please go and put forward your own views on what privacy is.

It seems to me that companies should be thinking about what corporate privacy is, not solely because of regulatory risks, but because of the opportunities inherent in better understanding the nature of privacy in your business. That is one reason i believe any major company should have a chief privacy officer, not someone concerned just with employee or customer welfare, but driving the bottom line by helping the company to better understand what is and what is not secret or private. Companies everywhere are being encouraged to be more open, in order to collaborate more effectively with partners and customers to create new products and services. But if you want to collaboratively innovate you really need a sense for levels of corporate privacy. What are we sharing and why, and in what context?

Data governance is a powerful an useful way of looking at your information assets but I think privacy remains is a powerful concept because we can all talk to it. That’s why I am intrigued by what Terry wants to do. He needs your help. I would also encourage Sun to shine the spotlight on people like Michelle and Robin Wilton, so that they can begin to socialise notions of corporate privacy in an age of declarative living. Solaris now phones home, which is potentially very useful for Sun and its customers. But the function might scare some people. Michelle and other privacy experts at Sun though, are not scary. They can help prepare the way for the next bit step towards the network as the computer. Privacy will be a critical component of The Participation Age, because its going to be about people and communities, not the underlying technologies.



Michelle has appeared on monkchips before – see our Coop for links.


  1. […] I’m at Sun’s Analyst Summit in San Francisco along with Steve, Cote’, and James. Sun seems to have done a great job of turning themselves around–witness their “solidly profitable quarter“–but they still don’t get the kind of respect their technical achievements probably should deliver to them. […]

  2. The only way that I’m concerned about privacy is that I’m not negatively affected by it, materially or otherwise.

    Otherwise, I could probably care less whether somebody figures out what kind of porn I like.

  3. Danno’s comment is tautological, I think. If I’m not materially or immaterially affected by a person or corporation discovering something about me, I don’t care about it — because the only reason I care about things is when I’m materially or immaterially affected by them.

    Privacy is about keeping secrets. There are two reasons I keep secrets: shame and personal advantage. In the former case, there are things that I have done, or thought, or thought about doing, or that have happened to me, that I would prefer hadn’t been done/been thought/happened — so I want them edited out of reality. I want nobody to know what happened, so that I can essentially undo the action as far as the zeitgeist is concerned.

    The latter is that there is some information that I have that has material value — be it stock knowledge, or a trade secret, or my buying habits — that I do not want to share because I either want to keep the advantage that knowing that information conveys or because there are people/corporations that could use the information that I don’t want to help.

    The latter case is why I disable cookies and don’t give identifying information to companies when I can avoid it; I want advertising companies to fail, because I don’t like being manipulated.

  4. […] quote, from Michelle Dennedy, Sun’s Chief Privacy Officer,  courtesy of one of the  mighty governor’s excellent […]

  5. Here’s another ‘cut’ at privacy, courtesy of some Summits I’ve been holding, and with a nod of gratitude to Piotr Cofta of BT: privacy is about maintaining the contextual integrity of the information you disclose.

    With respect to Dan Davies Brackett, would you tell a complete stranger (or, for that matter, your boss) everything you tell your life partner or your child?

    I don’t think ‘shame or personal advantage’ covers all the bases. You have relationships in which disclosure of one set of true information is appropriate, and other relationships which are based on the disclosure of other information.

    The idea of privacy as ‘contextual integrity’ is about two things: first, disclosing only as much information as is appropriate to a given relationship, and second, being able to control the ‘porosity’ of the barriers between those relationships.

    For example – I tell an online retailer some things, and an online local authority other things. Without any notion of ‘shame or personal advantage’, I should be able to control the extent to which my personal information is shared between them…

    (PS – sorry it’s taken me a while to post this comment! ;^)

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