View all news

Is privacy a 21st-century delusion? Free public talk

Press release issued: 6 February 2009

Whether we shop for holidays or insurance, information on us is collected every time we make a purchase, use our mobile, or even give out our postcode. How do we balance our desire for security and for privacy, in an increasingly technological world? These are some of the issues being addressed by Bristol University experts at a free public talk at the Watershed next Thursday [12 February].

These are some of the issues being addressed by Bristol University experts at a free public talk, entitled ‘Is privacy possible in the 21st century?’ taking place next week [Thursday 12 February].

Nello Cristianini, Professor of Artificial Intelligence from the University’s Department of Computer Science, will describe how advances in computer science mean that organisations can build complex pictures of people’s lives both legally and easily. Andrew Charlesworth, a Law and IT expert from the University’s School of Law, will talk about the information collected and the laws protecting its use.

Professor Cristianini said: “Today’s technology allows the collection and exploitation of a vast amount of diverse data. In this talk we aim to explore how, as we go about our everyday lives, we leave behind a permanent trail of personal data, that is never deleted but instead carefully analysed, and even traded, to model our behaviour and – in some cases – to try and influence it.”

Together, they will discuss the ways in which data can be used and how information, in order to be useful, needs to be gathered, stored or transmitted then processed and finally acted upon. Every step of this chain has undergone major transformations in the past decade, and can now be done automatically, cheaply, and very efficiently, by machines. This is already happening via certain webmail services, such as Googlemail, which reads every email, and selects targeted adverts, to display next to each of them, based on keyword matches.

Andrew Charlesworth said: “The speed at which this technology has changed is outpacing both our own understanding of its implications for our privacy; and the ability of the law and regulators to effectively and fairly balance our legitimate privacy expectations against competing demands for information from third parties, such as corporations and the State.”

The free public talk is being held at 6 pm on Thursday 12 February at The Watershed, 1 Canon’s Road, Harbourside, Bristol. Free light refreshments will be served. Admission is free, but places must be booked in advance by contacting Margery Lever, Public Engagement Administrator, Centre for Public Engagement, University of Bristol, tel 0117 331 8313, or by visiting the website.

The event is part of a series of public talks taking place throughout 2009, organised by the University’s Centre for Public Engagement, and also marks the Department of Computer Science’s 25th Anniversary.

Further information

Please contact Caroline Clancy for further information.
Edit this page