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The era of big data and invisible computing - where just about everything with a chip is connected to the internet - is throwing up an entirely new raft of privacy challenges for organisations according to Microsoft's chief privacy officer Brendon Lynch.

Mr Lynch who has been in Australia to speak at a major international privacy professionals' conference this week said that organisations needed to keep a close watch on customer expectations, shifting regulatory requirements and new technologies and explore the privacy implications at each hurdle. He said that companies, like Governments, also needed to adopt an international perspective in order to protect personal information wherever that data was held including in offshore clouds.

Although the underlying technology landscape was changing Mr Lynch said that the fundamentals of privacy were pretty constant. According to Microsoft's definition; 'Privacy is about the appropriate collection, use and protection of personal information,' said Mr Lynch who has been with the company since 2004.

The core concepts were about 'empowering individuals to have power over and use of their information , transparency and choice.' However the underlying technical landscape had altered considerably in the last seven years and today organisations recognised that; 'Data is increasingly a key driver of innovation - analysing more and more data about people and by people. '

In a wide ranging interview with iTWire Mr Lynch said that when he started in the role at Microsoft, although it already had a privacy agenda and had in 2002 established the Trustworthy Computing unit, there was no discussion of the cloud or smartphones. Also in the intervening years the online advertising ecosystem had emerged with a focus on delivering more targeted advertisements, while search had been enhanced with location aware capabilities.

All of these developments had significant privacy implications he acknowledged. Mr Lynch said that the three pillars on which Microsoft built its Trustworthy Computing initiative were security, privacy and reliability.

End user choice was also critical. 'One of the fundamental issues of privacy is the ability to control information they (individuals) put out and ability to take it down if they want.'

Asked about the US Federal Trade Commission ruling regarding Facebook's approach to its users' personal data, which will see the social networking site obliged to undertake a privacy audit every two years for the next two decades, Mr Lynch said; 'What was interesting about the Google and Facebook settlements was the need to have a comprehensive privacy programme and some oversight of that from an auditing perspective.


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Beverley Head

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Beverley Head is a Sydney-based freelance writer who specialises in exploring how and why technology changes everything - society, business, government, education, health. Beverley started writing about the business of technology in London in 1983 before moving to Australia in 1986. She was the technology editor of the Financial Review for almost a decade, and then became the newspaper's features editor before embarking on a freelance career, during which time she has written on a broad array of technology related topics for the Sydney Morning Herald, Age, Boss, BRW, Banking Day, Campus Review, Education Review, Insite and Government Technology Review. Beverley holds a degree in Metallurgy and the Science of Materials from Oxford University and a deep affection for things which are shaken not stirred.