W3CTechnology and Society

OBSOLETE: 1999 Overview Page

The Technology & Society Domain:

Understanding the social impact of the Web and reaching out to affected communities.

[Metadata | XML Signature | Privacy: P3P| Electronic Commerce | Public Policy]

Mission

The explosive growth of technology has forced the entire Web community to look at society's ethical and legal issues from a new international perspective. The Technology & Society Domain seeks to understand these issues in light of new technology -- partly by changing the technology, and partly by educating users about the technology's benefits, costs, and limits.


News


Introduction: Trust on the Web

The W3C Technology and Society Domain concentrates on issues that arise from applications of Web technology. This includes devoting significant resources to international public policy issues, including a full-time policy analyst. Since Web technology cuts across nations and cultures, W3C is committed to designing mechanisms which will support a diverse range of public policy options. Local policy control must be possible without cultural fragmentation or domination. In turn, W3C's Team and its Members work to educate the public and policy makers about the Web's capabilities, and how these affect, and are affected by, proposed policies. Our current focus is, broadly, on establishing trust in the new medium of the Web. This is a difficult problem, involving both social and technical issues. Trust is established through a complex and ill-understood social mechanism including relationships, social norms, laws, regulations, traditions, and track records. Our activities are chosen to focus on specific areas that are both important and tractable. There is a core of technical issues that are required in any system that is to be trusted:

  1. The ability to make statements that have agreed upon meanings. The W3C Metadata Activity provides a means to create machine-readable statements.
  2. The ability to know who made the statement and to be assured that the statement is really theirs. The W3C Digital Signature Initiative provides a mechanism for signing metadata in order to establish who is making the machine-readable statement.
  3. The ability to establish rules that permit actions to be taken, based on the statements and a relationship to those who made the statements. The PICS Rules specification allows rules to be written down so they can be understood by machines and exchanged by users.
  4. The ability to negotiate binding terms and conditions. The now-completed JEPI project created the Protocol Extension Protocol (PEP) to provide for negotiation on the Web. Negotiation is also at the core of the Platform for Privacy Preferences Project (P3P).

Domain Activities

Metadata

Metadata means "data about data" or "information about information" but probably more importantly now it should be taken to mean "machine understandable information, about information on the web". The Metadata activity was formed in 1997 from the recognition within the Consortium of a common subtask to existing activities such as PICS and DSig at W3C, HTTP and WebDAV at the IETF, the Dublin Core and many other projects.

The Metadata activity is the architectural underpinning of many of the Technology and Society activities. W3C's work on Digital Signatures, Privacy Protection, and Intellectual Property Rights Management are all based on the Resource Description Framework (RDF) work that is at the heart of the Metadata Activity. In addition, W3C is commited to creating a graceful transition from its current metadata technology (PICS) to RDF.

A full set of charters for the Metadata activities has been sent to the W3C Advisory Committee for approval:

  1. The Activity statement of the Metadata Activity
  2. [members only] The Metadata Coordination Group charter
  3. The PICS Interest Group charter
  4. [members only] The PICS Rules Working Group charter
  5. [members only] The RDF Model and Syntax Working Group charter
  6. [members only] The RDF Schema Working Group charter

Milestones for the RDF groups are assembled together on the [members only] Metadata Coordination Group's home page.

XML Signature (xmldsig)

One element of trust is the ability to reliably associate a statement with the person or organization who made it. While the underlying cryptographic technology to accomplish this is available and widely known, it has not yet been applied to a general-purpose system for creating machine readable statements.

Following a successful workshop on approaches to digital signatures, the W3C launched a joint Working Group on XML Signatures with the IETF. The Working Group's charter reflects the sentiment that an important first step toward building broader trust infrastructures on the Web is to develop a simple XML Signature syntax. Therefore, this Activity will not produce specifications for trust semantics beyond the simple facility to associate a signature key with a document. Key documents include:

A related but earlier W3C Activity specified a method of adding extensions to PICS 1.1 so as to sign PICS labels.

Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P)

This area involves the constant struggle between the need for Web content providers to gain information about their readership and the need for these individuals to control the release of this information to others. By generating more transparency on data collection practices, the recently initiated P3P Project will address the twin goals of meeting data protection expectations of consumers on the Web while assuring that the medium remains available and productive for electronic commerce. Following the principle of providing consumers notice of site privacy polices, and allowing users to express and act upon their privacy preferences in a flexible manner, one goal enhances the success of the other.

Public Policy Role

Since Web technology cuts across nations and cultures, W3C is committed to designing mechanisms which will support a diverse range of public policy options. Local policy control must be possible without cultural fragmentation or domination. In turn, W3C's Team and its Members work to educate the public and policy makers about the Web's capabilities, and how these affect, and are affected by, proposed policies.

Electronic Commerce

An important factor in the growth of the Web is electronic commerce: the ability to buy, sell, and advertise goods and services to customers and consumers. The Web is a new communications medium and, like all new media, requires us to rethink the existing solutions to age-old problems. The World Wide Web Consortium is concerned with the evolution of the medium itself. We must both understand the problems and work with our members to contribute to the solutions. The Electronic Commerce Interest Group is a forum designed to allow the members to share information with the Consortium staff and other members about problems and solutions, priorities and work underway in the area of Electronic Commerce.

Security

An important factor in the growth of the Web is the trust that can be placed in the quality, provenance, reliability, and privacy of information available from or transferred over the Web. The Web, while relying on the underlying security offered by the Internet, has trust and security problems related to the needs of applications, and these cannot be supplied strictly at the network level.  The World Wide Web Consortium is concerned with the evolution of the Web, and that requires understanding the security and trust requirements placed on the applications that use the Web.


About the Technology & Society Team

The Technology & Society Team presently includes eight staff members. Daniel Weitzner is the Domain Leader.  Danny joined the W3C Team in September, 1998.  Before joining the W3C, he was co-founder and Deputy Director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an Internet civil liberties organization in Washington, DC. He was also Deputy Policy Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The team has expertise in a number of areas, including security, electronic commerce, intellectual property rights, and public policy. Furthermore, the team has considerable knowledge in project management and multilateral Member development groups. As of November 1999 the team consists of:


Future Work Items

Intellectual Property Rights

In early 1996, a number of Members expressed interest in having the Consortium work with them to address issues of protecting intellectual property on the Internet. Member concerns include clarifying their corporate positions on the subject and suggesting other organizations with whom W3C might wish to partner to further investigate policy issues. W3C is currently identifying in which areas it can be most helpful.


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