Privicons project

The Background of the Privicons Project gives a wonderfully resourced summary of their privacy design project.


The Project’s Development
Recently there have been numerous approaches for simplifying privacy policies by the use of icons. Similar to the Creative Commons project for managing content licenses, some scholars and technologists have suggested privacy policies could be enhanced by being expressed via several layers, including one with simple-to-understand icons.

After a presentation given by Mary Rundle at the United Nations Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Athens in October 2006, the idea of “icon sets” for privacy was further discussed and promoted within the IGF´s Dynamic Coalition on Rights and Principles.

At the same time, researchers with the European projects PRIME and its follow-up PrimeLife were looking into ways to simplify privacy policies. They found that with so many ways to process and manage data, it is very difficult to define what must actually be represented in a simplified privacy policy. Nevertheless fascinated by the idea, they teamed up with US experts at Stanford to explore the concept further. The idea of developing “Privicons” for email was born.

Please note that the icons are merely asking the recipient of an email to follow the sender’s preference. As opposed to DRM oriented approches, Privicons embraces the concept of “code-based norms” (Zittrain) or a “neighborliness” approach (Gelman). This means that Privicons relies on social norms and signals meant to be acknowledged by a message’s recipient, instead of technical enforcement mechanisms. However, Privicons is an open project, and others may choose to develop technical means for Privicons’ implementation in the future.

The Privicons RFC
We have submitted an Internet Draft of a Privicons RFC to the IETF: “Privacy Preferences for E-mail Messages.”

Privicons Background Paper
In November 2010, we drafted a paper that explains the policy and philosophy of Privicons. (This paper was originally written as a draft for an Internet privacy workshop at MIT.)

Related Projects and Research
The following projects and academic papers are somehow related to the privicons and we are exploring ways to cooperate and ensure that our efforts are complementary:

Harvard law professor Larry Lessig speaks about the possibility of a ‘creative commons’ approach to privacy at republica:09.

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