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In 1995, IBM launched "Living in the Information Society", a range of projects centred on the Information Society debate. As part of this programme, IBM set up INSINC, the National Working Party on Social Inclusion in the Information Society, in collaboration with the Community Development Foundation.
By examining the impact of new information technologies on local communities and the potential for greater social inclusion within the Information Society, the report considers possible developments in the context of our present society, including:
- The significance of the community sector
- The future power of the technology
- The convenience of access
- Information handling skills
- Changes in the nature of institutions
Findings and recommendations
The INSINC Working Party found that:
- There is clear potential for the Information Society to be a more inclusive society, in which communities can be more active, informed and coherent.
- A change of emphasis is desirable, from discussion of information "have-nots", to recognition that some groups of people might become disadvantaged by being denied access to the communication opportunities which the technology is beginning to provide.
- A network of Community Resource Centres, providing opportunities for raising awareness, and access to multimedia and online technologies at local level, is called for.
- The Information Society promises new levels of empowerment but this will not come about without strategies for community involvement, and basic capacity-building among community groups.
In the report the working party outlined a series of recommendations as to how such aims could be achieved.
UNESCO - legal and ethical issues
In August 2000, UNESCO created an observatory on the Information Society. The Observatory's main objectives are to raise awareness on the constant evolution of ethical, legal and societal challenges brought about by new technologies. It aims to become a public service readily accessible to all by:
providing updated information on the evolution of the Information Society at the national and international levels and
fostering debates on the related issues.
Are you e-fluential?
Research by communications consultants Burston-Marsteller in 2000 identified that a group of Internet users have a disproportionate influence on other people, both on the Internet and beyond. The e-fluentials make up about 8% of Internet users.
"... in the new economy, one influential online person has an impact on the attitudes and behavior of approximately eight people", says Christopher Komisarjevsky, president and CEO of Burson-Marsteller Worldwide, compared with influencing two people in the old economy. More information and a chance to test your e-fluence on the web site.
URL: news story http://www.roper.com/
The European Commission released two reports emanating from the Internet Action Plan (IAP) on promoting safer use of the Internet. The reports cover the two main types of technologies currently available to help parents ensure that their children can use the Internet safely: content filtering based on self-labelling; and third-party rating.
The conclusion of the reports is that further work is needed to improve existing technologies so that they meet the needs of European users, and make a number of recommendations. Through the Action Plan, the Commission funds projects in the field of parental control technologies. Further information on the IAP and download the reports from the URL below.
First Monday May, 2000
The May 2000 issue of First Monday (volume 5, number 5) included a number of articles which consider technology and the information society, including:
- "It's Not What You Know, It's Who You Know: Work in the Information Age", which contends that the personal social network is fast becoming the only sensible alternative to the traditional "org chart" for many everyday transactions in today's economy.
- "Reflective Collaborative Learning on the Web: Drawing on the Master Class", which considers the development of online learning communities, exploring the skills of user interface design.
- "Helpmate: A Multimedia Web Teaching Framework", which explains the use of this web-based collaborative teaching system which is being used in further education.
- "Creating Virtual Learning Communities in Africa: Challenges and Prospects", which discusses the growing application of information communications technologies in Africa and other parts of the world.
- "How Will the Music Industry Weather the Globalization Storm?", provides a recent analysis of the fundamental changes affecting the roles of music publishers and record companies.
- "The Binary Proletariat", which considers the creation of a new working class created by the "digital revolution".
- "The COMsumer Manifesto: Empowering Communities of Consumers through the Internet", considers the benefits of a networked society which empowers consumers and creates communities.
"Libraries: the Essence of Inclusion"
The UK's Library and Information Commission (LIC) published "Libraries: the Essence of Inclusion" in April 2000 - a policy document which sets out the many ways in which libraries can contribute to social inclusion, and challenges Government, institutions and policy makers to recognise and optimise their potential.
New foundations for a new economy
Web usability guru, Jakob Nielsen's essay, (Alertbox for February 20) which takes as its starting point: "Studies of the social impact of the Internet must consider the changing lifestyle of the new economy and not relate solely to industrial-age concepts". The paper discusses the Stanford "Quantitative Study of Society" which ultimately claimed to show that the Internet causes social isolation and increases workload.
Citizens rights in the Information Society
The European Commission invited "ordinary" people to participate in a project designed to canvass the opinions of European citizens about their rights in the Information Society. The European Commission was keen to ensure that the Information Society meets the needs of all citizens and consumers as well as those of business. Within this context it is seeking to draft a Charter for citizens and consumers in the Information Society.
The consultation process was be based on a "multi-functional web site", with the core element of the site being dialogue, between European citizens and "experts" with varying interests in the Information Society. This discussion, entitled "EurVoice" was moderated by Dr. Stephen Coleman, lecturer in Media and Communication at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), and started when the web site was launched on February 10, 2000.
ZDNet published a special report entitled: "The Dark Side of the Digital Home", which addresses some of the concerns as to how digital technology may negatively impact society. The report consists of a number of articles and commentary, covering a number of digital age issues, from the security backlash to the potential risks from the spreading use of the Global Positioning System (GPS).
Social Learning in Multimedia (SLIM)
The final report of this major EC supported project was published on-line in February 2000. SLIM investigated the process of innovation in multimedia products and services arising from the convergence of information, communication and broadcasting technologies. It focused upon the role of social learning: the widely dispersed interactions between producers, intermediate and final users and policy-makers which are critical to the future evolution and success of multimedia.
The study involved 8 national research centres based in the UK, Denmark, Norway, Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Germany, and was funded by the EC DG XII Targeted Socio-Economic Research programme.
Imagined Electronic Community
The September 1999 issue of First Monday (volume 4, number 9) included a paper entitled: "Imagined Electronic Community", which discused how online communities were structured and supported (usually through commercial sponsorship) and how they may develop in the future.
"Building the European Information Society for us all"
The final report of the High Level Group of Experts on the Social and Societal Aspects of the Information Society was published in April 1997, and entitled: "Building the European Information Society for us all".
Electronic communication and society's future
A full conference report from an event entitled: "Social Venture Capital for Universal Electronic Communications" is available for download. Participants at this US conference, sponsored by the Markle Foundation, brought a wealth of insights to strategies for creating universal access to e-mail and leveraging universal electronic communications for broader social benefit.
It explored electronic communication and the potential consequences, both positive and negative, of new information technologies becoming more and more integrated into the fabric of the economy and society. Conference participants included senior US corporate and public policy leaders.
The Markle Foundation states as its mission: "Promoting lifelong learning and an informed citizenry through innovative uses of media and communications technologies". It publishes a number of resources on the information society, and has called for an organised academic movement to study the virtual world's impact on society.
Life on the Internet
This web site provides an eclectic mix of articles, resources and links which examines the ways people use the Internet and its impact on both the individual and society.
There is more to teaching and learning with technology than merely equipping schools. The two crucial questions which need to be answered before a robust solution can be found are:
- how does learning happen and;
- how can technology assist in the teaching process.
The UK government released a consultative document, "The National Grid for Learning", available as a PDF document. However the perception that the solution to developing a "telematic learning society" is a technical one (ie. by throwing hardware/software, wire & fibre at the problem, and the solution will appear) is flawed.
Building learning communities capable of exploiting the richness of the information society requires a re-thinking of the education system. This is not a new issue. There is a considerable body of knowledge of teacher development in a technologically rich environment, for example, research funded by Apple for 12 years and also some excellent material from the US government.
Managing online communities
Participate.com a US provider of consulting, management, and research services for online communities, released a white paper in July 2000 entitled, "Active Management: The Discipline of Successful Online Communities", which outlines the company's methodology for managing online communities. The white paper, authored by the company's Community Research Group, defines what "active management" is, how it helps companies achieve measurable business benefits, and why active management is critical to online communities.
Online community resource page
What are online communities and how do they function? Learnativity created a resource page on their web site analysing some of the aims and methods of online communities and pointing to resources for setting up communities.
Online communities research
A report based on contributions at a recent Joint EC/NSF Workshop on Human-Centered Computing, Online Communities, and Virtual Environments has been published on the web.
The Online Community Report, a monthly newsletter aimed at online community builders, includes reports on the latest software releases and companies active in developing web-based collaboration and community applications. Sign-up for the newsletter at the web site below, which also includes an extensive list of articles and resources published on other sites.
Platform for Internet Content Selection (PICS)
Platform for Internet Content Selection (PICS) is an initiative from the W3 Consortium to create a means of controlling access to specific topics on the Web. Information about PICS is available on the W3 site. The PICS technology is based on the labelling of content (metadata) much like other rating systems used for other consumer products and media. Good labelling systems for Internet resources, using the PICS standard, could help in the selection of interesting, high-quality materials and at the same time can be used to help "supervisors" (systems administrators, parents) block access to inappropriate materials.
Whilst PICS addresses the immediate problem of access to inappropriate material, as a labelling system its potential application is far wider. The ability to control the access of information to certain browsers for example could be very useful on intranets by controlling employees' access to information.
PICS and rating systems
The PICS initiative addresses the dual problems of labelling documents on web servers and giving browsers the ability to interpret these labels, displaying the document if it has a valid label attached. It purposely does not define or give attributes to these labels. This is intentional, therefore in order for the system to work it is necessary to classify content and in doing so give "attributes" to the labels. This classification of content is provided by the rating system.
Whilst a number of "rating" systems are available (RSACi and SafeSurf are two of the better known - most members of the PICS Consortium support the Recreational Software Advisory Council's (RSAC) content-labelling advisory system for the Internet (RSACi). The system is an objective, content-labelling advisory system for the Internet and is based on this non-profit organization's experience in developing a content rating system for the computer games industry. The RSACi rating system is available at no charge from RSAC's web site.
The labelling ability presented by PICS can be used at multiple levels and with the addition of digital signatures could ensure that the "groupware" aspects of information webs can be fully realised.
The labelling scheme adopted by the PICS initiative differs significantly in approach to "blocking" software (from such companies as SurfWatch, and NetNanny) which act at the client end, blocking access to the user. A good overview paper "Rating the Net", gives a number of interesting trails to follow, although its evaluation of PICS and rating schemes is rather sketchy and best read at the PICS and RSACi sites.
URL: RSACi http://www.rsac.org/
URL: SafeSurf http://www.SafeSurf.com/
URL: SurfWatch http://www.SurfWatch.com/
URL: "Rating the Net" http://www.msen.com/~weinberg/rating.htm
User privacy on the Web
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is also developing the Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) specification. P3P applications will enable sites to automatically declare their privacy practices in a way that is understandable to users' browsers. Privacy practices are embedded within the Web site and users can rely upon their client to ensure their privacy concerns are respected.
P3P is based on established W3C specifications, which include HTTP, Extensible Markup Language (XML) and Resource Description Framework (RDF). Future versions will leverage additional W3C technologies such as the Digital Signature Initiative (DSig).
P3P's effectiveness questioned
The newsletter, EPIC Alert, published by the US Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), carried a report in June 2000 prepared by EPIC and Junkbusters on P3P, and entitled: "Pretty Poor Privacy: An Assessment of P3P and Internet Privacy". The title gives a good indication of the authors' views following examination as to whether, in their opinion, P3P provides an effective solution for online privacy protection. The report is available from the EPIC web site.
URL: EPIC Alert http://www.epic.org/alert/EPIC_Alert_7.12.html
An IBM survey of consumer attitudes toward privacy found that, to conduct e-business successfully on the web, companies must provide personalised service and take proactive steps to ensure privacy. The report suggests that businesses that have good privacy policies and procedures gain a competitive advantage.
The Scout Report, from the Internet Scout Project (University of Wisconsin, Department of Computer Sciences) includes details of the FTC Advisory Committee on Online Access and Security, Final Report (May 2000) which outlines four possible approaches for granting users access to the information collected about them. Users can read the full text of the report and submit public comments at the FTC site.
Online Privacy - US public alarmed
A paper, "The Internet, Consumers and Privacy", published by the Internet Policy Institute, confirmed that there was, and presumably still is, a high degree of public alarm in the US concerning online privacy.
The paper reported that up to 90 million Americans now use the Internet regularly, but instead of paying a fee for these services "we offer up information about ourselves as we go, sometimes voluntarily and sometimes without even knowing it, and that information is compiled, bought and sold". "Much of the data collected and bartered online is information we consider personal: financial and medical data, and information about our personal habits, preferences and interests," the authors warn.
As a result, "public alarm about online privacy is growing nearly as fast as the Internet." In a report to Congress, carried out at around the same time, the Federal Trade Commission noted that 92% of Americans were concerned about the misuse of their personal information on the Internet. The authors concluded that potential plans for privacy protection must include:
- Technology, including both commercially-available software and browser-based systems such as the Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P);
- Educating the public and raising awareness about privacy among consumers because "under any scheme for protecting privacy in the information age, the person whose information is at stake is key";
- and Increased reliance on "fair information practice principles", a combination of basic privacy principles.
The complete briefing paper is available online at the Internet Policy Institute's web site.
Privacy & human rights survey
The "Third Annual Privacy and Human Rights Survey 2000: An International Survey of Privacy Laws and Developments" published by the US Electronic Privacy Information Center and Privacy International, reviewed the state of privacy in over 50 countries around the world. The survey examined a wide range of privacy issues including, data protection, telephone tapping, genetic databases, ID systems and freedom of information laws.
US personalisation vs. privacy report
In the wake of the FTC's ongoing inquiry into online privacy, Cyber Dialogue, an Internet customer relationship management company, released a report detailing perceptions of online consumer privacy, including aspects such as cookies, spam, and security. The Cyber Dialogue report, based on in-depth interviews with more than 1,500 Internet users, suggests that online consumers are not averse to revealing personal information, rather they are primarily concerned with how companies use the information collected. The full report can be downloaded from the URL below.
Personalization technology consortium
The Personalization Consortium, is styled as an international advocacy group, which aims "to promote the responsible and beneficial use of technology for personalising consumer and business relationships". The Consortium provides a forum for discussion of personalisation technology and privacy issues, develop guidelines for personalised online marketing practices, sponsor research, work with other industry and consumer groups to shape public policy, and educate the marketplace about benefits of the enabling technology. At its launch, in June 2002, the Personalization Consortium released the results of its first project, a survey of more than 4,500 Internet users about consumer attitudes regarding online privacy and retailers' use of customer information on the Internet.
The European Anti-Spam Coalition
EuroCAUCE, the European arm of the anti-spam organisation Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email (CAUCE) provides European users with a unified mechanism for dealing with all factors associated with spam. A key principle behind CAUCE is the belief that control of commercial spamming requires legislation rather than "self-regulation".
Web visitor surveys
Two surveys concerned with the collection and subsequent use of Web site visitor information, review web site visitors and owners sensibilities to the subject. The surveys are from online promoter ClickZ and the publisher of Business Week.
URL: ClickZ http://www.searchz.com/clickz/061198.html
URL: Business Week http://www.businessweek.com/1998/11/b3569104.htm
The Centre for the Study of Technology and Society reported on technology for tracking mobile phones which "will help locate victims in an emergency - but potentially could also threaten an individuals privacy".
If you wish to keep abreast of developments in subjects concerned with the online privacy debate the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) provides a good starting-point. The news, resources and discussion documents tend to be US-biased, though they often refer to issues of International significance.
There is a free newsletter service, EPIC Alert, which provides summaries of additions to the site.
URL: EPIC http://www.epic.org/
A European Union report entitled: "Application of a methodology designed to assess the adequacy of the level of protection of individuals with regard to processing personal data: test of the method of several categories of transfer" reviews the flow of information relating to human resources, airline reservation systems, medical and epidemiological data, electronic commerce and sub-contracted data processing in six countries (Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand and the US). The full report is available in PDF format.
The European Commission has adopted a Communication and a draft Council Recommendation on the protection of minors and of human dignity in audiovisual services. The documents define common objectives and areas of cooperation at Community level, with the realisation that self-regulation schemes at national level will provide the most appropriate answers as regards both television and the Internet.
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