Summary:

Consumer data issues are suddenly hot as the White House is taking the discussion to the public while, meanwhile, the New York Times is urging it to do more on this “Second Front in the Privacy Wars.”

White House
photo: Flickr / dcJohn

The Obama Administration is appealing to technology workers, business leaders and civil society advocates to attend public workshops about how companies use consumer data. The workshops will take place at various universities in the coming months, with the first one titled “Big Data Privacy: Advancing the State of the Art in Technology and Practice.”

Nicole Wong, a White House adviser and former Google lawyer, announced the events on Monday in a blog post, which states that the first workshop will be held March 3 at MIT. Follow-up events will take place at the University of California, Berkley, and New York University.

The announcement comes a month after the White House appointed a special adviser to produce a report about companies and consumer data. The New York Times, describing the issue as “A Second Front in the Privacy Wars” this weekend urged the White House to treat the adviser’s investigation as an occasion to propose new laws for people to control their data.

At the time, my colleague Derrick Harris offered some helpful suggestions in his article, “The White House is going to study big data. Here are 5 things it should know.”

Meanwhile, on March 19 at Gigaom’s Structure Data conference, I’ll be speaking with FTC Commissioner Julie Brill about whether the government can address the privacy implications of big data while at the same time encouraging its commercial and scientific potential. I’m hoping these talks will help pave the way for more sophisticated public and media conversations about consumer data — right now, the discourse is too often dominated by privacy panic headlines or misinformation. 2014 could be the year we get past that.

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