This weekend I had an opportunity to attend a dinner that, besides providing great food, presented me with an interesting exercise in privacy expectations.
There’s a person here in DC who hosts weekly dinners featuring Gujarati food. Seats are incredibly limited. The identity of the host is a secret. Even the event’s location is a secret up until the morning of the dinner.
To get a seat at one of these dinners, you have to fill out a very detailed reservation form. The form asks you to describe your cooking habits, what interests you have, and an anecdote. Further the form asks for your phone number, age, and for a photo. All this to get a reservation. (It reminded me a bit of L.A. Story’s L’Idiot restaurant.)
As a patron, my expectations were probably similar to yours in the same situation. I want to eat a restaurant’s food. I am trying to make a reservation. Asking for information beyond my name and phone number seems like too much. This was the context within which I was evaluating the situation.
Now here’s the wrinkle. The dinner is hosted at the person’s house. Every week, the person has dozens of people sit in the living room and eat. The host put together the reservation form as a means of protection. The host figured that a long reservation form would keep creeps and stalkers away. The context the host was using was one of a homeowner inviting strangers into the home.
Same data. Same form. Two completely different sets of expectations tied to two different contexts.
I am knee deep in my current project examining how we can help people make better privacy-respecting decisions by giving them more contextual information. The reality is that our data processing systems strip out contextual information. Customers, citizens, and partners becomes rows in a database, and when this happens people working with the data are denied a glimpse at the bigger picture and thus denied an opportunity to make a contextual evaluation. In my cases, this denial of context would have meant not having a great meal, but in the enterprise case the denial of context leads to far worse outcomes.