W3C Workshop Report: Keeping Privacy Promises

Privacy Experts Suggest Approaches for Managing Personal Information

Contact Americas, Australia --
Janet Daly, <janet@w3.org>, +1.617.253.5884 or +1.617.253.2613
Contact Europe, Africa and the Middle East--
Marie-Claire Forgue, <mcf@w3.org>, +33.492.38.75.94
Contact Asia --
Yasuyuki Hirakawa <chibao@w3.org>, +81.466.49.1170

(also available in French and Japanese; see also translations in other languages)

http://www.w3.org/ -- 14 December 2006 -- Today W3C published a Privacy Workshop Report and minutes that recommend next steps for keeping privacy promises when exchanging sensitive information on the Web. Privacy and access control experts from America, Australia, Asia and Europe met in October 2006 in Ispra, Italy to study Web privacy issues and solutions. W3C would like to thank the Joint Research Center of the European Commission for hosting that W3C Workshop on Languages for Privacy Policy Negotiation and Semantics-Driven Enforcement.

"The joint effort to organize this event and the active contribution of the participants on a high scientific level demonstrated the importance of the subject," said Jan Löschner, Head of Cyber Security at the European Commission's Joint Research Center. "I appreciated the constructive atmosphere of the Workshop to discuss privacy issues and wish to see proposed solutions being implemented and used in the future."

The Challenges of Online Privacy

On the Web, information collection and transfer are routine, often conducted by multiple parties in a manner transparent to the user. As more parties are granted access to information, it becomes more challenging to track chains of privacy promises and to enforce them. Tools can help, but tools require descriptions of access privileges, and such descriptions can be hard to formulate when so many parties are involved.

Though we may be familiar with scenarios such as a doctor exchanging patient information with a laboratory, these issues are not limited to large-scale enterprises. More individuals are sharing personal information (photos, blog entries, etc.) on the Web. They too recognize the need for more effective approaches for managing personal information, for describing who can access their information, and for learning who is to be held accountable when a given service does not respect their privacy preferences.

"This Workshop provided a broad, articulated outline of privacy-related challenges in the Information Society," said Professor Piero A. Bonatti of the University of Naples. "It was an excellent chance to bring together the visions and the approaches of institutional, industrial, and academic actors, covering not only computer science but also economics and other disciplines. The challenges discussed in the workshop are definitely going to be hot research topics for the coming years."

Towards a Common Framework for Policy Languages

Previous W3C work on Web privacy, the Platform for Privacy Preferences Project (P3P), focused on how to express privacy preferences in a way that allows software to enforce those preferences. The Workshop explored a different set of questions: How can privacy promises be maintained as information changes hands? How can access control decisions and accountability mechanisms leverage the Web to help manage obligations and actions arising from the data exchange? How can community and user driven Web sites leverage access control and accountability frameworks? Workshop participants suggested that W3C charter an Interest Group as a forum for continued discussion of these questions.

One common obstacle toward progress on integrated privacy approaches for both enterprise processes and the Web is the lack of interoperability between different policy languages. Current policy mechanisms are tailored to specific use cases and serve those use cases well. But today's enterprise and Web environments require a tight coupling of different approaches. Participants in the Workshop agreed that the community should embrace the reality of policy language diversity and work on facilitating connections among these multiple languages, rather than trying to create a a single combined policy language to cover the entire field of personal information processing and access control. W3C is participating in the PRIME and PAW projects, which promise to provide valuable input into future work in this area.

About the World Wide Web Consortium [W3C]

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international consortium where Member organizations, a full-time staff, and the public work together to develop Web standards. W3C primarily pursues its mission through the creation of Web standards and guidelines designed to ensure long-term growth for the Web. Over 400 organizations are Members of the Consortium. W3C is jointly run by the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (MIT CSAIL) in the USA, the European Research Consortium for Informatics and Mathematics (ERCIM) headquartered in France and Keio University in Japan,and has additional Offices worldwide. For more information see http://www.w3.org/