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A new system for managing personal data: EnCoRe

If you’ve ever downloaded a new piece of software or signed up for a social network, you’ve probably been asked to read lengthy “Terms of Service” and then click a button that says “agree”.  But more and more, these services are requiring the ability to store and share sensitive personal data, and it’s getting harder to understand exactly what you are allowing them to do when you click “agree”. It’s harder still to change or revoke this afterwards.


So the question becomes: does that form of consent protect both users and businesses as much as possible? If not, what would be a better alternative?


These are the central questions being tackled by EnCoRe project, a research collaboration among social, legal, technical, and economic experts from institutions like the London School of Economics, the universities of Warwick and Oxford and HP Labs.  Last week, the project members demonstrated the prototype implementation of a technical architecture that provides a system for Ensuring Consent and Revocation (EnCoRe) of personal information in an easy, reliable and rigorous manner.


“This is a problem not just for users of the latest social networking service,” says Pete Bramhall from HP Labs in Bristol, UK and EnCoRe Project Co-ordinator. “It’s an issue for many kinds of businesses as well, from a legal and social perspective.  EnCoRe is investigating how technology can help solve it. And HP is particularly interested because managing trust and privacy correctly is going to be critical to ensuring the continued growth in IT-based services”


What does this all mean for the next time that “I Agree” button pops up in your browser?


“Think carefully about what you are signing up to,” Bramhall warns, “and if there is any chance you might want to change your mind on the private information you are allowing someone else to hold about you.  And who they might give it to in the future.”.


As users, there currently doesn’t seem to be any alternative to clicking “OK,” at least if we want the membership or software. But work like EnCoRe may provide another option soon.

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