Computing Profession

Computers, Freedom, and Privacy in a Networked Society: June 15-18, in San Jose and Cyberspace

Jon Pincus

Should we have to give up our freedom and privacy to reap the benefits of a constant connection to friends and information?

— from the CFP 2010 Call for Participation, October 2009

Talk about great timing! With Facebook privacy on the cover of Time magazine and Google being investigated in Europe and the US after admitting that they collected information from home wifi networks, it’s a perfect lead-in to the 20th annual ACM conference on Computers, Freedom, and Privacy.

One of the things that makes CFP so distinctive is that we have speakers from Google and Facebook as well as privacy and civil liberties organizations like EFF, EPIC, ACLU, CDT, and many others. Attendees include technologists lawyers, activists, and policy experts. With heavily-discounted admission for ACM members, students, academics, and non-profits (and free admission for government employees and the press) it’s a heavily multi-disciplinary crowd, the kind of place where cypherpunks can talk with people from the Department of Homeland Security and nobody bats an eye.

As always we’ve got a very broad program: privacy choices online, cybersecurity, trust, healthcare privacy, smart grids, intelligent transportation systems, mobile technologies and resisting surveillance, robots and civil liberties, social network activism, and much more. There’s a Work in Progress session for research in Cybersecurity and Privacy (with some funding still available!) and a technology fair. And on Wednesday June 16, we’ll have the first CFP Unconference, a self-organizing workshop where the attendees set the agenda.

I’m chairing this year’s conference along with Professor Dorothy Glancy of Santa Clara Law, with major assistance from Sigurd Meldal of the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering at San Jose State University and a hard-working team of volunteers. If you’re in the Bay Area, we hope you’ll be able to join us in-person — here’s the registration page. If you can’t make it to the event, we’re planning on streaming video, and we’ll have an active Twitter and Google Wave backchannel. And we’ll be blogging, too, here on BLOG@CACM and on the CFP blog.

There’s way more to discuss about CFP than can fit into a single blog post, so you’ll hear from us multiple times here before and during the conference. To kick things off, I’ll focus on a topic that’s particularly hot right now: privacy and social networks.

It’s a topic that’s been simmering for quite a while, but Facebook’s recent OpenGraph announcements at their f8 conference in April have kicked it into overdrive. The backlash has been intense, and as a result both MySpace and Facebook have announced that they’ll be giving people simpler ways of controlling their information — a big win for everybody’s privacy if they do it well. [If you haven’t been tracking it, in a post earlier this week on the CFP blog I linked to thought-provoking posts by past CFP’ers danah boyd, Ryan Singel, Michael Zimmer, Nisha Chittal, and Marc Rosenberg.]

With over 400,000,000 people affected, it’s made the leap from the technology press to mainstream media. Suddenly, the kinds of questions we’ve talked about for years at CFP are the stuff of everyday conversations:

*Should information collected on social network sites be shared by default, requiring people to opt out in order to keep their privacy, or should the default be to keep things private, requiring opt-in for transparency?

*As these sites turn into platforms, sharing social graph information more broadly, what if any restrictions are put on applications and partners — and are they enforced?

*How can users who aren’t happy with a site or company’s policies leverage the power of social network sites to try to change things?

We’ll be talking about these topics at quite a few sessions at this year’s CFP. On Tuesday, we’ve got panels like Privacy and Free Speech: It’s Good for Business, Privacy Choices Online (including a representative from Facebook), and Foundations for Trust Online. Thursday features Can an App do That? (again with a Facebook representative) and a session led by EFF on Hot topics in privacy which will cover their proposed Bill of Privacy Rights for Social Network Users. And both days also have discussions of social networks and activism.

In a discussion on SocialBeat, Kim-Mai Cutler and Alex Schleber agreed that they’d love to see a symposium on privacy to debate these issues. Guess what? We’re having one — and we hope you’ll join us!

About Computers, Freedom and Privacy.

CFP is the leading Internet policy conference, exploring the impact of the Internet, computers and communications technologies on society. The CFP audience is as diverse as the net itself, with participants from government, law enforcement, business, and education, including computer professionals, lawyers, hackers and engineers, non-profits, and the media. CFP is the place where the future is mapped.

Jon Pincus is co-chair of CFP 2010.

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