Avoiding Pitfalls in Policy-Based Privacy Management

Avoiding Pitfalls in Policy-Based Privacy Management

George O.M. Yee (NRC Institute for Information Technology, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-132-2.ch009
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The growth of the Internet is increasing the deployment of e-services in such areas as e-commerce, e-learning, and e-health. In parallel, the providers and consumers of such services are realizing the need for privacy. The use of P3P privacy policies on Web sites is an example of this growing concern for privacy. Managing privacy using privacy policies is a promising approach. In this approach, an e-service provider and an e-service consumer each have separate privacy policies. Before an e-service is engaged, the provider’s policy must be “compatible” with the consumer’s policy. However, beyond compatibility, the policies may face pitfalls arising from improper specification, misapplication, and improper maintenance (e.g. failing to keep a personal privacy policy up-to-date). This can result in the lost of privacy and even lead to serious safety issues in certain cases. This chapter gives examples of how such pitfalls can arise and suggests ways to avoid these pitfalls.
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1. Introduction

1.1 The Privacy Problem

The rapid development of the Internet has been accompanied by a growth in the number of e-services available to consumers. E-services, and in particular, web services, are available for banking, shopping, learning, healthcare, and Government Online. However, each of these services requires a consumer’s personal information in one form or another. This leads to concerns over privacy. Indeed, the public’s awareness of potential violations of privacy by online service providers has been growing. Evidence affirming this situation include a) the use of P3P privacy policies (P3P, 2002) by web server sites to disclose their treatment of users’ private information, b) the enactment of privacy legislation and directives by major jurisdictions as a sort of owners’ “bill of rights” concerning their private information, and c) the appointment of privacy commissioners or officials who can assist the consumer in addressing violations of privacy (Canada has a federal privacy commissioner as well as provincial level privacy commissioners). In order for e-services to be successful, privacy must be protected. An effective and flexible way of protecting privacy is to manage it using privacy policies. The objectives of this chapter are a) to show that such use of privacy policies can lead to pitfalls and b) to propose ways to eliminate or mitigate these bad outcomes. This work is based on Yee & Korba (Oct. 2005).

1.2 Approaches for Solving the Privacy Problem

Various approaches have been used to protect personal information, including data anonymization (Iyengar, 2002; Kobsa & Schreck, 2003) and pseudonym technology (Song et al., 2006). Approaches for privacy protection that are in the research stage include treating privacy protection as an access problem and then bringing the tools of access control to bear for privacy control (Adams & Barbieri, 2006), treating privacy protection as a privacy rights management problem using the techniques of digital rights management (Kenny & Korba, 2002), and considering privacy protection as a privacy policy compliance problem, verifying compliance with secure logs (Yee & Korba, 2004). This work is concerned with the latter approach, i.e. the management of privacy using privacy policies. In this approach, the e-service provider and e-service consumer each has a privacy policy that stipulates how personal information is to be handled. The consumer’s policy states how the personal information about the consumer is to be handled by the provider, for example, what the information can be used for, how long the provider can retain the information in its possession, to which parties the information may be disclosed, and so on. The provider’s policy states how the provider will handle the consumer’s personal information, in terms of the same ways of handling information as in the consumer’s policy. Naturally, the e-service can only proceed if both policies agree with each other. Once this agreement is reached, privacy protection relies on the provider upholding the agreed upon privacy policy.

1.3 The Privacy Policy Pitfalls Problem

The use of privacy policies in privacy management can have pitfalls or unexpected negative outcomes. Pitfalls can arise from a) how the matching of policies between consumer and provider was carried out, b) improperly specified policy content, c) whether or not the consumer privacy policy was a good fit for the e-service, and d) whether or not the privacy policy was properly maintained or kept up-to-date. For example, a policy allowing a drug prescription to be given to a provider is unlikely to be a good fit if the provider’s service sells books instead of drugs. In such a scenario, a pitfall could arise if the provider inadvertently discloses the prescription to an individual who is not to receive such information according to the consumer’s wishes (e.g. a mother who the consumer would not wish to worry, if the prescription was for a serious illness).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Privacy Policy Matching: Before a user invokes an e-service, the user’s privacy policy should agree with the provider’s privacy policy. Privacy policy matching is the process of comparing these polices to determine if there is such agreement.

Pitfall: A pitfall in the context of privacy policies is an unexpected negative outcome (see “unexpected outcome” below) resulting from the application of a privacy policy.

Privacy Policy: A user’s privacy policy is a statement that expresses the user’s desired control over an e-service’s collection, use, retention, and distribution of personal information about the user. A service provider’s privacy policy is a statement that expresses the provider’s desired control over the collection, use, retention, and distribution of personal information about the user.

Unexpected Outcome: An unexpected outcome in the context of privacy policies, is an event or result from the application of a privacy policy that was unexpected or unintended. Unexpected outcomes can be positive (e.g. the application of the privacy policy resulted in unexpected financial savings that would not have accrued in the absence of the policy), or negative (e.g. the application of the privacy policy resulted in some unexpected personal loss such as loss of a job – see examples in this chapter).

Privacy: Privacy refers to the ability of individuals to control the collection, use, retention, and distribution of information about themselves.

Specification of Privacy Policy: This refers to the process of constructing the privacy policy. This can best be done through the use of a computer application that guides the user or service provider in constructing the policy and results in a machine readable form of the policy that is amenable to further computer processing (e.g. for privacy policy matching).

E-Service: An e-service or electronic service is a service that can be accessed by users of the service through a network such as the Internet. Two examples of e-services are 1) an online broker such as etrade.com that allows users to obtain stock quotations and trade stocks, and 2) an online book seller such as amazon.com. Web services comprise an important class of e-services that is characterized by the use of XML and SOAP in a Service Oriented Architecture.

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