This year's Oxford London Lecture, entitled 'Keeping Our Secrets', explored how far societies can shape the development of computing and communications technologies.
The lecture was delivered by Dr Ian Brown, Associate Director of Oxford University's Cyber Security Centre and Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute. It was followed by a panel discussion involving the Rt Hon David Davis MP, former Shadow Home Secretary; Stephen Deadman, Global Privacy Officer, Vodafone; and Nick Hopkins, Investigations Editor, The Guardian.
Dr Brown argued that technologies can serve the public good as well as private interests and that data minimisation is one of the key challenges. He suggested that technologies should limit and decentralise personal data collection to protect against the risk of hackers, corrupt insiders and data loss, as well as function creep (the gradual widening of the use of a technology or system beyond the purpose for which it was originally intended).
Dr Brown's previous research on privacy-enhancing technologies includes smartphone software that selects adverts to show to users based on their browsing behaviour, without notifying advertisers of individual interests. The system works especially efficiently for location-targeted adverts and, unlike existing behavioural-advertising systems, users' profiles are kept under their control.
The lecture raised questions not just for computer scientists but also lawyers, economists, political scientists and sociologists, as well as the technology industry and government.
The Oxford London Lecture is delivered in association with The Guardian. There will be a live hour-long question and answer session with Dr Brown on The Guardian website from 2pm today.