Data Responsibility

Less Data, More Privacy

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On October 2, when the Nobel Prize for Physics was announced people around the world were scrambling for information on one of the three winners. A Canadian physicist who made a path-breaking research in laser science described by the Nobel Award Committee as “method of generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses.” The work she has done in 1985 has been benefiting people around the world by way of laser cutting machines, laser surgeries and so on.

But on the day of the Nobel Prize announcement, very little information was available in public domain (read Internet) on the winner, Donna Strickland.

Donna has been engaged in frontier research in Optical Science since early eighties, and completed her doctoral work on “Development of an ultra-bright laser and an application to multi-photon ionization” in 1989 at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics at the University of Rochester in the US. The work that received attention of Nobel Prize Committee was one of her earliest papers published in Optics Communications Journal in 1985 titled “Compression of Amplified Chirped Optical Pulses”.

Despite all her good work that led her straight up to the Nobel Prize Committee, there wasn’t a page on her available in Wikipedia. In the crowded space of personality biographies ranging from small town actors, journalists and politicians to mushrooming entrepreneurs and businessmen, Donna Strickland was drawing a blank in Wikipedia on October 2. For, she wasn’t qualified to be featured in Wikipedia.

Someone did try to compile a profile of her in Wikipedia way back in 2014, citing her position as the past president of The Optical Society, a global organisation dedicated to the study of lights. But it was deleted the same day as she did not meet the requirements of a profile in Wikipedia, the world’s crowd-sourced free online encyclopaedia.

Donna Strickland lives without a twitter handle, a LinkedIn profile, and even a Facebook profile, leave alone blogs and websites. The only online presence of her is denoted by a faculty page maintained by the University of Waterloo where she is an Associate Professor at the Physics and Astronomy Department.

Not to be left behind, Wikipedia pulled off a profile page of Donna in no time on October 2 with contributions pouring from all corners of the world. On mounting criticism, Wikipedia came out explaining why it did not have a page on the acclaimed Nobel Prize winner. As the discussions on Wikipedia not having a page on Donna strayed towards gender inequality, Katherine Muahahar, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation took to twitter. She tweeted, “Journalists — if you’re going to come after Wikipedia for its coverage of women, check your own coverage first. We’re a mirror of the world’s biases, not the source of them”.

On the other side of the spectrum was the woman who made her country and the University proud, Donna. She was not for sharing so much of information in the public domain. By doing so, she enjoyed her privacy while engaging in some of the most advanced research benefiting billions of people around the world.

This act of her is holding a mirror on individuals who are basking in glory on the social media and online space by sharing a lot of private and sensitive information. Not realizing that they will be slaves to the sensitive information they have shared in the public domain.

Too much of anything is bad. Letting too much of Data on oneself is also bad.

Protection of personal data lies in one’s own control, to a good extent. Individuals should decide what information they could risk letting out in public domain permanently. Remember the profile statement of famous author Paulo Coelho: ‘delete tweets.’ There are many people like him who keep deleting anything they put out online.

That’s called data protection. And it’s the best Privacy Control.



The Nobel Prize, Donna Strickland – Facts

Donna Strickland – Official Website

Donna Strickland – Wikipedia Page

Why didn’t Wikipedia have an article on Donna Strickland, winner of a Nobel Prize?

Tweet of Katherine Muahahar, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation

Wikipedia Page Is a Metaphor for the Nobel Prize’s Record With Women

Donna Strickland, first woman to win Nobel Prize in Physics in 55 years

LLE Review Quartely Report October – December 1985

Compression of Amplified Chirped Optical Pulses, Optics Communications, December 1985

Government & Regulatory Affairs Executive, IBM India/South Asia

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