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Maggie Shiels

Data Privacy Day

  • Maggie Shiels
  • 28 Jan 09, 11:15 GMT

At the moment there is no greetings card for Data Privacy Day, but this is its second year and 27 countries around Europe, Canada and here in America will use it as a springboard to educate and make users aware of the best way to protect their information online.

Computer keyboardAs the first state in the nation to set up an office of privacy protection, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has proclaimed Wednesday "California Privacy Day."

A range of events are being held throughout the world to mark the day from panel discussions to cocktail parties and from outreach projects to seminars and workshops.

With a constant barrage of reports of how cyber criminals are wreaking havoc on the internet, there is a renewed effort by privacy advocates to push for more to be done to protect consumers and to hold companies accountable for what they do with information that is gleaned from our online activities.

In the States, a group called the Future of Privacy Forum is calling on President Obama to appoint a chief privacy officer to create standards for how personal information can be captured by search engines, social networks and mobile browsers.

"With this administration, how data is handled is going to be far more central than ever before," Jules Polonetsky, co-chair of the Forum and a former chief privacy officer at AOL told the Washington Post.

"We have people enthusiastically interacting with the government - wanting Barack to be our Facebook friend - yet we don't have an accountable figure to help shape information policy."

Microsoft, once the target of so many privacy groups, has commissioned some research into what concerns users have about going online.

For its study the company spoke to a sample of people in Dallas and in San Francisco.

Their comments ranged from: "Once you get in the internet, I don't think there's any control" to "I think we should be as cautious as we can, but also the companies that we're dealing with should protect the information."

And from: "We're aware of the risks and the safeguards to take, there are other people who maybe aren't as aware" to "I find I have more trust in a company when I have the option of opting out....or unsubscribing to them."

The software giant's chief privacy officer Peter Cullen told me that their findings refute the belief that most people, especially the young, are cavalier about the information they give away about themselves.

"There is a sense of resignation," explained Mr Cullen. "Most people realise they are making trade-offs when online. While they are not always comfortable about those trade-offs, they do it because of the value they get from the services online or sharing information online gives them.

"They would prefer to have much more control and feel better about sharing that information and that's where education comes in."

To that end Microsoft is involved in hosting a major community discussion on the issue in San Francisco for Data Privacy Day.

I'll be moderating the debate at the city's public library and I'll let you know how I got on.

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