Digital Persona Project
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Felix Stalder, April 2000, v.1.0

This is a high-level summary of major dangers to and potentials for privacy protection through software agents.

Software agents are programs that can act on behalf of an individual user and, over time, learn about to the user's unique preferences and behaviours. A certain degree of autonomy and adaptability are essential qualities of software agents.

Privacy concerns the handling of personal data. Privacy is measured in degrees. A high degree of privacy exists when the user knows what personal data is being created in the course of a transaction, who has access to this data and gives explicit consent to how the data is handled. Privacy is a major concern to all parties involved in electronic commerce. Consumers have repeatedly stated that they are concerned about their privacy. In a recent representative study conducted in October 1999 by IBM, 58% of all US respondents have stated that it is very important that Internet-companies follow strong privacy protection policies. IBM Global Services (1999). The Canadian government is about the pass extensive new privacy legislation (Bill C-6) that applies, among others, to federally regulated business. In addition to this, private industry has been encouraged to develop strong self-regulation.

Software agents based on user profiles and with the ability to negotiate on behalf of the user how this data is being communicated add important new elements to this important discussion. They possess new potential for privacy invasion and for the protection of sensitive personal data.

Privacy Invasion:

Privacy Protection: To bring out the positive potential of software agents and avoid their major pitfalls, it is important to regard privacy protection early on as a design variable, rather than as an add-on to be dealt with in usage policies. Building the technology appropriately will prevent later embarrassment of the type that is currently experiencing.

Major Literature:
Hustinx, Peter, Cavoukian, Ann (1999). Intelligent Software Agents: Turning a Privacy Threat into a Privacy Protector. Toronto, On; The Hague: Information and Privacy Commissioner/OntarioRegistratiekamer, The Hague
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