Re: [ietf-privacy] Is there an official working definition for Privacy Online?

Pranesh Prakash <> Tue, 10 May 2016 06:24 UTC

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To: Nick Doty <>, Alissa Cooper <>
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From: Pranesh Prakash <>
Organization: Centre for Internet and Society
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Date: Tue, 10 May 2016 11:54:07 +0530
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Subject: Re: [ietf-privacy] Is there an official working definition for Privacy Online?
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Nick Doty <> [2016-05-05 18:10:05 -0700]:
> I do tend to agree with the conclusion that as a result we shouldn't be using "privacy" as a technical term on its own. Sentences in specs of the form "Feature X undermines privacy" or "Feature Y provides privacy to the end user" are either inappropriate, or more likely, incomplete. Instead: "Feature Y supports privacy by providing unlinkability of traffic between requests".


I feel thinking in terms of characteristics of privacy, rather than 
"privacy" is useful, since it helps us move beyond the idea that privacy 
is an unqualified good, to viewing it as a set of characteristics that 
should be considered with seriousness during protocol design.

For instance: Anonymous communication mechanisms (a privacy 
characteristic) allow people to avoid detection while publishing 
confidential third-party communications (another privacy 
characteristic).  That violation of privacy is not something that can be 
tackled at a protocol level.  However, that to me demonstrates that 
there may potentially be inherent trade-offs and conflicts, even within 
various privacy characteristics.  Hence, viewing "privacy" as a singular 
idea makes no sense to me.

> It might still be useful to refine a short definition that can be cited to speed up conversations on privacy at IETF or help in scoping work; NIST, for example, has been trying to come up with privacy engineering objectives analogous to the C-I-A triad for security.

Given the above, I don't see why a short definition is required or how 
it would be helpful.  Perhaps my problem is with the word "definition", 
while, on the other hand, listing a set of "characteristics" or 
"categories" is what would be useful (and perhaps that is what was meant).

~ Pranesh

Pranesh Prakash
Policy Director, Centre for Internet and Society | tel:+91 80 40926283 |