The comments were made by Jules Polonetsky, co-chair and director of the Future of Privacy Forum, as the Supreme Council of Information and Communication Technology (ictQATAR) addressed the issue of Internet privacy at its latest Connected Speaker event.
Polonetskey said that interfaces that control privacy issues need to be as simple as driving a car so that it is clear what is happening and when.
One system of doing this online and on mobile devices is to have easily recognisable symbols that tell you when your data is being collected, giving the user the option to opt-in or out.
However, one experiment that allowed people visiting the site to choose if they wanted data to be collected to monitor how the site was used saw that only 15-20% allowed data collection.
If people do not permit data to be collected then this can cause a problem for the current system of “free” website use.
One option that has been proposed is that users should be able to subscribe to a “do not track” list that would automatically stop websites and services from collecting your data.
The truth is, however, that most data collection is done without our knowledge, such as on location trackers on mobile devices, as many free applications in fact record location data and sell it.
In the US, the Obama administration has proposed a general privacy law, with industry groups coming up with codes of conduct that would be enforceable under the law.
However, a bitterly politically-divided US Congress means that nothing is expected in the near future, Polonetskey said.
The Obama administration wants to advance the privacy law to be more interoperable with that of the European Union (EU), as companies complain about some of the challenges with moving data between the two regions.
Polonetskey said that many emerging economies are wondering if strict privacy laws can coincide with support for innovation and the free flow of data, if they want to be data centres and have entrepreneurs view them as a good place for business.
“At the same time, if there is no protection in place then consumers and countries around the world will be concerned that there isn’t a baseline of safe privacy.”
“I think, for Qatar, it is at a really unique point where you can show the world a third way between a very strict, regimented data approach (and an) anything-goes data approach – in a way that shows an appreciation for innovation and appreciation for technology, but with important protections for children, important protections so spam can be reigned in and controlled,” said Polonetskey.
Because progress in US policy may be slow, Qatar can help “support an Internet where users set the tone for the future as opposed to all the other parties out there deciding what our future should be for us”.
Polonetskey believes that the backlash against invasions into people’s privacy by the plethora of search engines, mobile applications and social networks is evidenced by the number of companies profiting from selling privacy tools and services.
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