星期二, 7月 13, 2010

Impact of Multimedia and Information Technology on Communications and Privacy.


  1. Identify, if you can, four different government departments that you expect would have a “file” on most people.

This may depend on the students’ nationality, but likely to include the following government departments:
- Birth, Marriage, Death register
- Health/ Hospital/ Medicare record
- Education history
- Taxation history (personal income details)
- Drivers license (and history of cancellations).

There will be others that exist for “most” people….and lots that are specific to just some people (such as passport office, jail detention)…but these do not count for this question.

  1. Do you think some people would have concerns if such files were to be amalgamated and cross checked? Why?

In principle…when ever a person has given different information to two or more such government departments, then there is scope for such differences in information to be identified, and the person to be held to account for misinformation.

For example, information about income, place of residence, medical conditions.

There may also be concern that information that is considered personal and private should only be disclosed on an as-need basis. For example, a personal history of adoption, or a medical history that indicates treatment for cancer, should not be disclosed in the context of Education, or to the people who the person needs to deal with in such educational institutions.

  1. Identify, if you can, four different businesses that you think may have a “file” on you.

This will vary for each student, but may include the following business types:
- Groceries or supermarket (food, drink, toilet paper, pet food, cigarettes)
- Bottle shop (beer, spirits, wine)
- Garage (type of car or motor bike, repair history)
- Computer store (software and hardware)
- Electronics goods store (TV, stereo)
- Chemist (medications, prescription drugs)

You may or may not also consider:
- Banks (account types, wealth, mortgages)
- Insurance (possessions, locations, value)

  1. Do you think some people would have concerns if such files were to be amalgamated and provided to the public domain? Why?....and of what use is such information to other businesses…  and who OWNS such information?

Some people – yes….but perhaps not all.

Essentially, ones’ consumer habits may be considered to be ones’ own business. Whether a person consumes excessive amounts of soft drink (or alcohol), cigarettes, needs their car repaired “often” due to crashes, owns lots of expensive computer hardware and plasma televisions, or is required to take a specified prescription drug, may all be the source of embarrassment for many. It may also offer an increased risk to the chance of burglary since the likely contents of their home are now disclosed.

Remember too, that some businesses may pertain to aspects of sexuality (brothel), religion (church sponsorship), or ethnicity (restaurant type… such as Indian, Chinese, Thai, Mongolian… or any other ethnic food type).

All of the above information is considered valuable in the context of direct marketing. Knowing the types of products purchased, the brands purchased and the relative volumes purchased, may encourage a manufacturer of a competing product to target a specified individual because they believe that the person is a likely potential customer.

The issue of ownership of such information is…”tricky”. Each individual owns the information about themselves. Information freely given for a specified purpose must not be used outside of that purpose. Information given freely by an individual, but who does not realise the range of purposes that it could be used for, may be open to use as the fault can be argued to lie with the consumer for failing to fully inform themselves. Others may argue that there is a need to ensure consumers fully understand the intent of use before such consent may be granted.

Consider the in-house purchase cards (store specific credit cards) used by many large chains of grocery stores. Such cards are argued to provide convenience to the consumer, and may also offer benefit by way of discounts….but the cards also explicitly identify the user, the purchases, the dates, the amounts spent…and so on. Over time this enables a profile of the customer to be defined….and this information may be a valuable item that, depending upon the circumstances, could then be on-sold to a third party.

  1. Do you think that banks, medical centers and lawyers are suitable examples of businesses that could be considered above in Question 3 and Question 4? Explain your reasoning. What differences do you think exist between these businesses and those that typically sell grocery items or newspapers?

Students are free to see businesses such as banks, medical centers and lawyers as appropriate (or inappropriate) to their answers to Question 3 and Question 4 above. It depends on personalised point of view.

The point here is that governments (and society) have historically considered personalised information about finances, medical conditions and legal records to be protected by law and to represent areas of a moral-right to privacy. It is generally illegal to pass such information to anyone who does not hold a legal right to access it. The individual in question will often be required to authorise such disclosure by signing a release form.

Release of such personal information (finances, medical, legal) to the public domain may clearly be harmful to the individual in question.

The changing market place means that lots of data is now often collected about a wide range of purchases (both goods and services) that an individual may make. Such benign information as grocery items purchased may lead to personal implications not realised as achievable, by techniques such as data mining.

The whole area of “privacy” needs to be re-evaluated in the context of data about individual consumer behavior.

  1. In undertaking the discussions above ….is it possible that anyone’s privacy has been breached? Explain your reasoning.

The top of this tutorial question sheet specified to students to:
“Only provide information about yourself that you are comfortable providing in a public domain.”

I am trying to ensure that no participant finds themselves in the situation where he or she has disclosed information about their consumer habits (shops used, products purchased) that may result in embarrassment, harassment, or vilification.

It is important to note, however, that in principal there are people who may experience embarrassment, harassment, or vilification if details of their purchasing habits were to be provided to the public domain. These are some of the specific risks that arise from data mining and direct marketing.

  1. Identify three (possible) advantages in using email compared to phone conversations.

This will vary between students, but advantages of email over phone conversations may include:
- provides a hard copy record of what was said or what advice was given
- enables one to consider carefully their wording in comments, questions, argument, or complaint…to thus avoid “speaking in the heat of the moment”
- enables one to pen their thoughts at any time of day….even if the person to whom it is directed is absent or asleep.
- can write, send and receive emails without causing disruption (or at least minimal disruption) to those around them. (NOTE: I am not suggesting that you should attend to emails during a class)

  1. Identify three (potential) disadvantages in using email compared to phone conversations.

This will vary between students, but disadvantages of use of email over phone conversations may include:
- much less personal to communicate in writing than by conversation
- absence of intonations indicating excitement or confusion, laughter and other verbal cues that do not translate easily to text.
- does not generally provide immediate (real-time) feedback, ensuring that one “knows” the message has been received.
- generally takes longer to write material than to speak it.

  1. To what extent do you use email and phones (including SMS) differently?

This will vary between students.

All options are acceptable here because the question is capturing personal habits.

In general, however, I anticipate that phones are used more with ones’ close network of friends (contained within their phone listing), while Emails are used more for “formal” communications with institutions such as universities, and government departments.

Emails are also likely to be used between close friends when there is a need to “document” the conversation (such as a collaborative assignment, or preparing to book plane tickets for a shared holiday) or when there may be large cost implications for phone usage (due to being in different locations on the globe)….though applications such as Skype will impact upon this.

  1. Are there practical alternatives to written signatures to demonstrate that you agree to something, such as a contract, provided by Information Technology?

Some forms of alternative contract agreements are already in use, such as:
- audio dialogue capture to demonstrate agreement to a contract presented by phone conversation (these are popular with phone companies undertaking direct marketing)
- video capture of interviews, such as police interrogation. Note that these are “better” than a signature on paper because they more clearly indicate the dynamics of the situation to demonstrate if coercion is present, or the extent to which the words presented are or are not those of the person being interviewed.
- mobile camera phones; these offer the potential for dedicated video capture available to the broad population, and have already been used to “document” events such as accidents, physical attacks or verbal abuse.