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To Really Protect Our Privacy, Let’s Put Some Numbers on It

This piece contains excerpts from Tracy Ann Kosa’s article, “To really protect our privacy, let’s put some numbers on it,” published by Fast Company in April 2019.

In an article published by Fast Company this month, Tracy Ann Kosa, a former Non-Resident Fellow at the Digital Civil Society Lab, discusses how and why we need to measure data privacy. “Privacy professionals have spent a lot of time debating the word [privacy], what the boundaries of legal rights are, and how to define accountability,” she says. “But we still don’t have a good way of measuring how much privacy we have, how much we want, or how much we are willing to trade away for other benefits–like connecting with our friends and family on Facebook… No wonder no one can make an informed decision. Privacy isn’t just contextual, it’s transitive.”

“Humanity is missing from the technical infrastructure that the world has come to rely on,” Kosa says. “We have a responsibility to teach this autonomous black box to be obsessed with humanity, to learn to express our values in its language. It’s particularly important because that black box is being fed our personal data, makes decisions with it, and impacts real people with those decisions. How do you teach a machine to trust?”

“Clarifying the real-world changes that might come about when we ‘agree’ to share our data helps us all have a real conversation about what we’re giving up, and what we’re getting in return,” Kosa says. “We have no concrete notion of the companies and organizations and governments that are  monitoring our digital selves every minute of every day. Measuring will force us all to develop more discrete and accessible ways to determine the value we put on our data, and the costs of sharing it.”

Listen to Kosa discuss privacy advocacy on the IAPP privacy podcast. On the show, she expresses the importance of creating a privacy profession code of ethics.