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Workshop on

Society, Privacy and the Semantic Web -

Policy and Technology

PrivOn 2014

Hashtag: #PrivOn2014

at the International Semantic Web Conference (ISWC) 2014

October 20th, 2014, Riva del Garda Fierecongressi SpA, Trento, Italy


Last year Bruce Schneier’s article “The Internet is a surveillance state” summarised the state of Internet privacy as “Welcome to an Internet without privacy, and we've ended up here with hardly a fight”. A couple of months later, Snowden shocked the world when he revealed that the US National Security Agency (NSA) were tracking online communication in a large scale surveillance programme known as PRISM. This was quickly followed by revelations that other countries were running similar covert operations. One year on and the story is still making headline news. Just this month, Tim Berners-Lee called on the world to take a stand against surveillance on the web. His suggestion is a global digital "bill of rights" similar to the Magna Carta.

The stage is set for a thrilling debate on the right to privacy and what actions should be taken to protect this right online. Technical Co-Sponsored by IEEE UK and Ireland SSIT Chapter and the CityPulse Project, this year’s workshop aims to build on last years event by growing the community of individuals actively working on the topic and by promoting discussion beyond the technical aspects, building on aforementioned current events. It aims to capture the intersection between society, policy and technology, for example by debating the need and foundation for a global digital "bill of rights" similar to the Magna Carta as suggested by Tim Berners-Lee.

Motivation and Objectives

Bruce Schneier’s article “The Internet is a surveillance state” summarises the state of Internet privacy in its concluding paragraphs:

“So, we're done. Welcome to a world where Google knows exactly what sort of porn you all like, and more about your interests than your spouse does. Welcome to a world where your cell phone company knows exactly where you are all the time. Welcome to the end of private conversations, because increasingly your conversations are conducted by e-mail, text, or social networking sites. And welcome to a world where all of this, and everything else that you do or is done on a computer, is saved, correlated, studied, passed around from company to company without your knowledge or consent; and where the government accesses it at will without a warrant. Welcome to an Internet without privacy, and we've ended up here with hardly a fight.”

Mere months after Schneier’s article, the Snowden revelations made the world sit up and take notice. It was already widely known that the NSA had been collecting the telephone records of millions of telephone customers in bulk. Snowden’s revelations uncovered details of an Internet surveillance program called PRISM, which showed the NSA had obtained direct access to the systems of nine Internet companies, including Google, Facebook, and Apple. The months that followed included a stream of revelations of other internet surveillance programs such as MUSCULAR, XKeyscore and Tempora, as well as the bulk collection of US and European telephone metadata, and large scale data analytics over the collected data.

In a recent interview with the BBC, Tim Berners-Lee called for the online community to take action:

“In front of us are two roads - which way are we going to go?

Are we going to continue on the road and just allow the governments to do more and more and more control - more and more surveillance?

Or are we going to set up a bunch of values? Are we going to set up something like a Magna Carta for the world wide web and say, actually, now it's so important, so much part of our lives, that it becomes on a level with human rights?"

We (the Semantic Web community) are responsible for the conception of technologies that enable large scale integration and mining of personal and public information in all domains of society. We are part of the problem therefore we should be part of the solution.

To date the focus has been on researching specific privacy and security models and frameworks, for example for access control, obfuscation, anonymization, aggregation, licensing, etc. However, we are “putting the cart before the horse”, we are proposing technical solutions without fully understanding the requirements. When it comes to privacy online there are many open questions which remain unanswered:

    • Given implications of our technology, what does the society evolve to? What do we want it to evolve to? What is “acceptable behavior” for data aggregation and use? What are the societal norms that we have to develop or emerge? What are the “robots.txt” equivalents that need to be developed to keep data aggregators and governments in check?

    • What policies and laws are already in existence and what else do we need? How do we engage meaningfully in a discussion? What do we need to do in research or policy influencing in order to make a difference? How are these policies and laws developed and supported in an inherently international environment? How do we engage with other communities, e.g. in law and policy making?

    • How do we technologically support the described efforts? How do we support the compliance of privacy laws? How is our increased responsibility being reflected in our scientific events and conferences?

The goals of the workshop can be summarised as follows:

    • Raise awareness that the technologies the community are working on have global societal consequences. Concurrently, raise awareness that our research can be guided by determining a road map for desirable privacy goals.

    • Provide a platform for debate between the different communities that are involved in Web privacy and security - e.g. policy makers, users, social sciences and computer scientists.

    • Grow the community of individuals actively working on the topic and promote the diversity of research beyond the technical aspects.


A number of Semantic Web researchers are actively working on technological solutions for security and privacy of both data and semantic data. However, we explicitly aim to broaden the participation in this workshop, reflecting the growing importance and impact semantic technologies have. Given the broader context of this workshop, it will appeal not only to the usual ISWC audience but but also to other groups. Notably we aim to attract policy makers, lawyers and researchers with an interest in the societal impact of technology. Furthermore we expect interest from a number of different application domains such as healthcare, financial, and ebusiness where privacy is an important topic.

Topics Of Interest

The topics of this workshop are different from previous workshops and events which were usually focused on technology and inspired by current societal events and trends. This workshop aims to capture the intersection between society, policy and technology, for example by debating the need and foundation for a global digital "bill of rights" similar to the Magna Carta as suggested by Tim Berners-Lee. Therefore we have structured the topics in three main areas as follows.

Society and privacy

    • Case studies: what are the societal privacy implications of semantic technologies?

    • What is the impact of semantic technologies on privacy in specific domain?

    • What are appropriate societal conventions to protect privacy?

    • What are desirable privacy situations?

    • When do we want to control information flow?

    • Privacy awareness in social communities

Legal and policy perspective of privacy

    • Managing personal information disclosure

    • What laws support privacy management and enforcement?

    • What new legislation might be necessary?

    • Privacy legislation compliance

    • How to influence policy making?

    • How to synchronise policies of different legal domains?

    • Personal data and the role of the data controller/processor

Technology perspective

    • How can societal conventions be supported by technologies?

    • Anonymity and identity discovery

    • Techniques for anonymity, pseudonymity and unlinkability

    • Privacy implications of data integration and data linking

    • Protecting against pattern/behaviour discovery and community mining

    • Protecting against data falsification

    • Non-repudiation and digital signatures

    • Usage control and accountability

    • Data provenance and trustworthiness of knowledge sources

Format and Submission Procedure

Contributions to the workshop can be made in terms of papers and reports as well as position papers addressing different issues of the stated topics of interest.

  • Research papers and reports (up to 16 pages) and position papers (up to 6 pages), must adhere to the LNCS Style.

  • Papers must be submitted in PDF format through the workshop submission site at:

  • Papers will be reviewed by the program committee and a limited number will be selected for presentation at the workshop.

  • The proceedings of the workshop will be published online at CEUR-WS.

Extended versions of the best ISWC workshop papers will be considered for publication in the Journal on Data Semantics.

Important Dates

Organising Committee

Program Committee

Piero Bonatti, Universita di Napoli Federico II, Italy

Ernesto Damiani, University of Milan, Italy

Tim Finin, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, United States

RV Guha, Google

Vinay Gupta, ISRS, University College London, UK

Harry Halpin, W3C

Lalana Kagal, CSAIL, MIT, Cambridge, United States

Alessandra Mileo, DERI, NUI Galway, Ireland

Wolfgang Nejdl, L3S Research Center, Hannover, Germany

Ian Niles, Microsoft

Inah Omoronyia, University of Glasgow, UK

Alexandre Passant, Seevl, Ireland

Axel Polleres, Institute for Information Business, WU Wien, Austria

Ravi Sandhu, University of Texas at San Antonio, United States

Daniel Schwabe, PUC Rio, Brazil

Henry Story, Apache

John Taysom, 2012 Senior Fellow ALI, Harvard University, UK

Keerthi Thomas,The Open University, UK

Evelyne Viegas, Microsoft

Serena Villata, INRIA Sophia Antipolis, France

For further information on the focus and activities of the UK and Ireland SSIT (Societal Implications of Technology) Chapter, please click here.