Myself, along with a circle of women professionals, entrepreneurs, and state legislators, and partnering with other women of diverse culture and ethnicity, founded the Dialogue in 1990 in the setting of a series of exchange visits by American and Russian women. Dialogue on Diversity, born out of this notably diverse enterpr ise of a score of years ago, now continues its exploration of both the problems and the creativity of a diverse society in a year-long sequence of public policy programs, plus an entrepreneurship/IT/Trade conference targeted each July to women business owners.
Dialogue on Diversity has for long championed the role of shrewdly employed information technology in the toolbox of women entrepreneurs. Each January the IT spotlight is directed squarely at the aspect of privacy in the setting of an Internet-linked business and social universe. The Dialogue’s recent 2012 program on data privacy, a half-day seminar on Capitol Hill in Washington, systematically analyzed the vulnerability of privacy interests of at the hands of commercial marketers, governmental data collection expeditions, and the growing social networks with their random dispersion of users’ personal information to far off, perhaps ill-intentioned recipients. The Dialogue has now inaugurated its Privacy Notes, issued at approximately two-week intervals, with short summaries on legislative, commercial, governmental, and intellectual developments on various privacy fronts. Interested readers may join the circulation list for the Privacy Notes and the Dialogue’s Newsletter by request to email@example.com.
Commercial information gathering, nowan inevitable part of corporations’ marketing thrust, has brought to the fore the phenomenon of “tracking”, the assembly, through mining of multiple internet sources, of information about particular users, coupled with the analysis of this mass of data to fashion a profile of the user’s personality and revealing, in particular, the buying proclivities of the subject — all without the knowledge, let alone consent , of the computer user! While the fact that invisible persons, or at any rate machines, are in effect peering through a window at our inner thoughts and drives, is disconcerting – and thus prompting a lively movement to ban or restrict “tracking” – at the same time the Internet’s marvelous cornucopia of benefits are produced, at a cost, by the content originators: and it is the marketing edge achieved through the tracking/analysis combine that pays for these benefits, which of course users are happy enough to accept – thus the intricate balancing task that policy must perform.
On another front, the collection of information by governments extends to a broader range of subjects than the “customers” of the commercial world, indeed to anyone who frequents certain locations, who reads or associates in certain ways, or who is present at any random time and place! This crowd of potentially affected persons, again finding all this threatening, may fairly take offense. Thus the price of national security, or of other benefits furnished to a grateful populace by official authority, is invoked as the justification for these often intrusive practices, to be paid for in the currency of the privacy of the random (some not so random) persons picked up in the ambit of the governmental sensors.
The most sensitive field of concern on the privacy scene is that of health and medical records. In the course of health care transactions patients disclose information which may be embarrassing or potentially harmful (loss of employment, cancellation of insurance, etc.). Once the information is communicated to the medical provider, therefore, the patient may reasonably worry lest it be used or disseminated in any of the ways that would occasion shame or harm. The undoubted benefits of a thoroughgoing adoption of information technology in the medical universe cannot sidestep the difficulty. It is to solve this near intractable problem that the energies of technology must be enlisted for preservation of the patient’s privacy, while at once affording the medical teams treating the patient in the present– and in successive future visits – full and swift access to the crucial medical history.
Cristina Caballero is the President of of Dialogues on Diversity.