Whichever Estate: Exactly Right

Whichever Estate: Exactly Right

Mitt Romney has been accused of a number of gaffes, but one seems a bit unfair, as he spoke of ‘… some in the Fourth Estate, or whichever estate, who are more interested in finding something to write about …’.* Well – Candidate Romney is not the only person to wonder what to call the new role of the Internet and social media in creating an estate of the 21st Century that is every bit as important as the press since the 18th Century. I’ve called it the Fifth Estate, and a piece of mine with others was published today about the interrelationship between the Fourth and Fifth Estate in Britain. Hope you have a chance to read it and put a name to this new estate of the Internet realm. See: http://www.ijis.net/ijis7_1/ijis7_1_newman_et_al_pre.html  So it is exactly right to recognize an estate other than the Fourth.


*Quoted from Chris McGreal, ‘Rivals seize on candidate’s string of gaffes’, The Guardian, 1 August 2012, p. 17.

Privacy Online: Get Over It

A recent story based on Ofcom research indicates that fewer people in the UK are concerned or worried about the Internet than you might expect, based on journalistic coverage, and that concern has abated somewhat over the years. Other research, such as the Oxford Internet Surveys (OxIS), supports this observation.

There are several reasons for this. One and I think the most important is that the Internet is an experience technology. As people get experience online, they become less concerned. Those who are most concerned about the privacy and other implications of the Internet, have never used it. And this is not to say that users have a blind level of trust – they do not. Very few people totally trust the Internet or any other source of information, and a certain level of skepticism is good. The other is the degree to which the press and many other pundits simply take the exceptional cases as typical. Most people, most of the time, are reasonably careful about what they post, and how they protect the security of their systems and the privacy of what they regard as truly personal information. That does not mean that everyone reads the privacy policy of every service provider, just as they often ignore the small print of insurance, bank, and credit card policies. They have a learned level of trust in particular providers.

When some providers have been too lax in protecting the privacy of consumer data, it is most often the users of the Internet who blow the whistle and generate media coverage. So the Internet has become one of the most important mechanisms to ensure that Internet companies are held accountable for their behavior. That is another reason why users are less worried than the admittedly entertaining and worrisome press coverage would have us believe.

See: http://www.itproportal.com/2012/04/02/ofcom-uk-citizens-less-concerned-about-dangers-of-the-internet/


OeSS Seminar at the OII: The Town Hall in the Digital Era of Social Media: 5 March 2012 from 14.00-15.00

Andrea Kavanaugh from the Department of Computer Science at Virginia Tech will be visiting the OII on Monday 5th March and will be giving a talk between 14:00 and 15:00 in the Meeting Room at 1 St Giles. If you would like to attend, please drop an email to: events@oii.ox.ac.uk

Andrea’s talk will be entitled: ‘Participation in the Town Square in the Era of Web 2.0’. It is a unique case study of using computational approaches – eResearch – to enhance community discussion. Here is a brief abstract:

Collective decision-making is central to the quality of life in communities, towns, and city neighbourhoods throughout the US whether it is routine and long term planning or timely and critical follow up to crises. How can social software together with network analysis and data mining help to harness and model these myriad online resources and social interactions to support and foster broader and more diverse civic participation in America’s communities? We envision a single unified and comprehensive site – what we are calling a Virtual Town Square based on an automated, continuous aggregation of locally relevant online content generated elsewhere by others with aggregated and built-in social interaction and discussion. Our research objectives are to: 1) design, build and investigate a virtual town square (VTS) for geographic communities; 2) model communication behaviour and effects related to the use of social software, including VTS, by diverse users (e.g., civic participation, social interaction, political/collective efficacy); 3) conduct computational analyses on complex data derived from content in VTS and related uses of social software to identify and analyze implicit social and information networks, and to track and model the flow of information throughout the community.

Andrea Kavanaugh

A Fulbright scholar and Cunningham Fellow, Andrea Kavanaugh is Senior Research Scientist and Associate Director of the interdisciplinary research Center for Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. Her research lies in the areas of social computing and communication behavior and effects. Dr. Kavanaugh leads research on the use and social impact of information and communication technology funded primarily by the National Science Foundation. Prior to joining the HCI Center in 2002, Dr. Kavanaugh served as Director of Research for the community computer network known as the Blacksburg Electronic Village (BEV) from its inception in 1993. She holds an MA from the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, and a PhD in Environmental Design and Planning (with a focus on the telecommunications sector) from Virginia Tech.  She served on the Board of the International Telecommunications Society (2002-08) and currently serves as Treasurer (formerly Secretary) on the Board of the Digital Government Society (DGS). More detail at http://www.cs.vt.edu/user/kavanaugh; she can be reached at kavan@vt.edu.

The Risk of ‘Privacy Impact Assessments’ – PIA in the Sky

I’ve run across the promotional material for a new book by David Wright and Paul De Hert, Privacy Impact Assessment, Springer, Dordrecht, 2012. They argue that the book ‘is timely as the European Commission’s proposal for a new Data Protection Regulation would make privacy impact assessments mandatory for any organisation processing “personal data where those processing operations are likely to present specific risks to the rights and freedoms of data subjects”. I find the whole idea of PIA to be far too uncritically accepted by far too many within the privacy community.

Stop the PIA

My own sense is that this sounds good, parallel to an ‘environmental impact assessment’ (EIA). But the history of EIA should clearly alert us to the risk that impact assessments are unlikely to prevent risks to privacy and data protection. To the contrary, they are likely to cover the backside of actors who can say they submitted a risk assessment, be limited to primarily a symbolic victory for privacy, and clearly raise the costs of all software and systems developments, creating a new set of businesses employed to write PIAs for organizations.

The concept of a privacy impact assessment is one of those initiatives that sounds good, and rings all the right bells to be politically popular, but that will not accomplish its intended aims and undoubtedly have negative, unintended consequences. I hope the privacy community takes a more critical look at the rhetoric in support of this bureaucratic silver bullet that carries its own risks.

Happy to receive comments, as I am sure my view is a minority opinion, but every discussion of the issue convinces me all the more that the PIA is a mistake. I hope some bright students begin to evaluate the actual impact of the PIA.

Advice to Ofcom

The Advisory Committees to Ofcom have created a blog site to provide useful information of relevance to anyone with a serious interest in communication issues across the communities and nations of the UK and Northern Ireland. It is designed to inform members of the various advisory committees to Ofcom. It will accomplish this by using the Internet to tap the wisdom of individuals across the UK and Northern Ireland, or anywhere in the world, with either local knowledge, such as what is happening in your community, or expertise in a particular area, whether it be mobile communication, broadcasting, telecommunications, or any of the many specialized topics discussed by the advisory committees. I’d like to invite you to take a look at the site, add your comments as your interests and expertise permits, and let me know if you have thoughts on how to improve the site.

Advice to Ofcom


Steve Jobs’ Legacy

The outpouring of tributes to Steve Jobs speaks to his enormous global impact. So many have rightly described him as a design and marketing genius, but he will and should be credited with a far greater role in literally – to paraphrase Alan Kay – inventing the future. He is among the key individuals who fostered the innovations that led to the revolution in personal computing since the late 1970s, and which provided core infrastructure for the Internet, which has been based on the personal computer in the household since. His more recent role in innovations around the smart phone and the tablet computer are equally revolutionary in fostering what we have called the ‘next generation user’, who accesses the Internet from multiple devices, including appliances, often on the move (Dutton and Blank 2011). I am sure that many will focus on his recent role in creating new products and building the Apple brand, but he is not just a loss in the world of the computer and Internet industry and corporate competition, but also a loss to all those with a serious interest in the future of the information and communication revolution we have lived through over the past decades.

His passing led me to immediately recall the famous 1984 Apple Macintosh commercial. The beautiful female athlete that hurls the hammer into the screen that was displaying Big Brother, speaking to the masses, is certainly the anti-thesis of the computer nerd, Steve Jobs. But surely she represented his ambition to liberate the individual computer user. The innovations he has been associated with have done much to enable more individuals to use technologies in ways that provided them with more communicative power and the ability to hold institutions across society more accountable. He is often criticised for moving towards an appliance-based, walled-garden approach, but his smart phone and tablets have not become a substitute for the personal computer, but more of a complement that extends and embeds the Internet in everyday life and work (Dutton and Blank 2011).

Barack Obama has been quoted as saying that Jobs ‘… changed the way each of us sees the world’. Indeed, and he enabled each of us to have more personal control over how we see the world.


Dutton, W. H., and Blank, G. (2011), Next Generation Users: The Oxford Internet Survey 2011. Oxford: Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford.




Internet and Society Conference, Peking University, 20-21 May 2011

Summer Palace 2011

I have been attending a conference, entitled ‘Interne and Society: Challenge, Transition, and Development’. It has been organized by XIE Xinzhou (Director) for the School of Journalism and Communication at Peking University as one activity associated with the 10th Anniversary of the School, when communication joined the former school focused on journalism. I spoke on the 20th of May, discussing what I am calling ‘The New Internet World‘, and was joined by a number of other academics from abroad, primarily from the US, including Pamela Shoemaker (Newhouse School at Syracuse), Professors James Katz (Rutgers), Stephen Reese (University of Texas at Austin), S. Shyam Sundar (Penn State, but also visiting Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul), and from Europe, Richard Ling (IT University of Copenhagen). We were joined by many professors from Peking University, Renmin, Wuhan, and other universities in China, plus some outstanding representatives from industry, including WANG Liang (President of Radio Beijing Corp), LI Fang (Deputy Editor of Tencent Inc), and GUAN Jianwen (VP of People’s Daily Online).

No Name Lake at Peking Un

My presentation is on slideshare at: http://www.slideshare.net/WHDutton/the-new-internet-world

Creating an Information Sharing Environment in the Public Sector: Talk on 8 April 2011

This was an important talk about information sharing in the public sector, given by one of the key people seeking to create an information sharing environment for the US government.  It was entitled:

‘The Need for Achieving Appropriate Information Sharing and Information Protection’

I was held on Friday, 8 April 2011 at 16.00-17.30 at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, 1 St Giles Oxford OX1 3JS

The slides are posted on Slideshare at: http://www.slideshare.net/WHDutton/information-sharing-and-protection and an audio recording of his talk should be posted in due course in the OII’s Webcasting archive.



In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the United States began a historic transformation aimed at preventing future attacks and improving its ability to protect institutions at home and abroad. As a result, the US is now better informed of terrorist intentions and plans, and better prepared to detect, prevent, and respond to their actions. Enhanced information sharing has provided a greater capacity for coordinated and integrated action.

The Information Sharing Environment (ISE, www.ise.gov) was established by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. The ISE provides analysts, operators and investigators with integrated and synthesized information on terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and homeland security. This talk will describe what the ISE is and by doing so will explore post-9/11 information sharing in the United States, and the efforts being made towards information sharing and protection. David will also give a brief outline of on-going ISE development efforts.

In essence, this talk highlights that when examining the full scope of information sharing and protection, there are many widespread and complex challenges that must be addressed and solved by multiple agencies together. Policies and solutions should be framed to address all types of protected information, classified and unclassified, as critical national and homeland security issues cut across security domains. Protection also includes privacy and civil liberties protections. Without privacy and civil liberties protections, sharing is not possible; and without sharing, protection loses its relevance.

About David Bray

Dr. David A. Bray is Executive for Innovation, Integration, and Interoperability, Office of the Program Manager, Information Sharing Environment. He  joined the Office of the Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment (PM-ISE) in October 2010 as a Senior National Intelligence Service Executive. The Program Manager has government-wide authority to plan, oversee the build-out, and manage use of the ISE to implement the President’s information sharing priorities. Dr. Bray’s work focuses on empowering the ISE partnerships of five communities – Defense, Intelligence, Homeland Security, Foreign Affairs, and Law Enforcement – in support of whole-of-government solutions for assured information sharing, protection, and access. Prior to joining ISE, Dr. Bray served as a strategist at the Institute for Defense Analyses and the Science and Technology Policy Institute. Dr. Bray holds a PhD in information systems, a MSPH in public health informatics, and a BSCI in computer science and biology from Emory University, alongside two post-doctoral associateships with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Collective Intelligence and the Harvard Kennedy School’s Leadership for a Networked World Program. He also serves as a Visiting Associate with the National Defense University.

UNESCO Publication on Freedom of Connection – Book Launched and Accessible in Print and Online

Our manuscript has been published by UNESCO in a print edition, also available online.  The citation is:

William H. Dutton, Anna Dopatka, Michael Hills, Ginette Law, and Victoria Nash (2011), Freedom of Connection – Freedom of Expression: The Changing Legal and Regulatory Ecology Shaping the Internet. Paris: UNESCO, Division for Freedom of Expression, Democracy and Peace.

There was a launch event in Paris on 30 May, with a press release providing details on the launch and access to the online and print versions of the manuscript at: http://portal.unesco.org/ci/en/ev.php-URL_ID=31418&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html

Networking Distributed Public Expertise: Strategies for Citizen Sourcing Advice to Government

My paper on ‘Networking Distributed Public Expertise: Strategies for Citizen Sourcing Advice to Government’ is one of a series of Occasional Papers in Science and Technology Policy, Science and Technology Policy Institute (TPI), Institute for Defense Analyses, Washington DC. I will post the abstract below and would welcome comments, directly or to this blog.

Networking Public Expertise


The potential of crowd sourcing has captured the imagination of many managers and professionals across all sectors of society, but left many others quite skeptical. This is not only because conceptions of the wisdom of crowds appear counter-intuitive, but also, if taken literally, these concepts can be misleading and therefore dysfunctional for governments seeking to adopt innovations in distributed collaboration. This paper challenges conventional notions of the wisdom of crowds, arguing that distributed intelligence must be well structured by technical platforms and management strategies. After clarifying these conceptual issues, the paper explains how collaborative networking can be used to harness the distributed expertise of citizens, as distinguished from citizen consultation, which seeks to engage citizens – each on an equal footing. Networking the public as advisors aims to involve experts on particular public issues and problems distributed anywhere in the world. The paper then describes the lessons learned from previous efforts to citizen source advice, and why governments should again pursue this strategy as a means to inform policy and decision-making. This is followed by a set of nine strategies for fostering the bottom-up development of governmental initiatives aimed at harnessing distributed public expertise.


If there is any difficulty obtaining this paper, a copy is available on SSRN at: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1767870