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Study to examine Japanese and British attitudes to online privacy

The way in which online privacy is perceived in Japan compared to Britain is to be investigated for the first time in a research study led by De Montfort University Leicester (DMU). The research may help British businesses and organisations, whose websites are used by Japanese people, to be more aware of culturally sensitive issues when formulating their privacy policies.

Researcher Steve McRobb, a Principal Lecturer at DMU, will give a paper launching the study at ETHICOMP 2007, an annual conference which examines issues of society and ethics within the context of ICT (Information and Communications Technology).

Previous studies have looked at the topic of online privacy from the perspective of Western democracies and, to a limited extent, in the Middle East. This study will be the first of its kind to explore the way Japanese people understand notions of privacy used on the Internet.

Japan provides a significant proportion of the world's Internet traffic; the country has the third highest number of broadband connections in the world and Japanese is one of the most requested languages on the Internet.

Mr McRobb's main partners in the research project are Professor Kiyoshi Murata and Dr Yohko Orito, both from Tokyo's Meiji University. Professor Murata is Professor of Management Information Systems at Meiji University's School of Commerce and was, from 2003 to 2005, a Visiting Scholar and Honorary Professor at DMU's Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility. Dr Orito recently completed her PhD at Meiji University.

Also involved is Dr Andrew Adams, from the University of Reading's School of Systems Engineering, who is currently a Visiting Professor at Meiji University and is conducting an independent but related research project for his own university. Dr Adams is an expert in social, legal and ethical issues of computing, and it is anticipated that his project will share insights and results with the DMU study.

In 2005, Dr Orito and Professor Murata presented a paper at ETHICOMP on aspects of privacy in Japanese culture, which proved to be the inspiration for this research project. Mr McRobb said: "Many Japanese use the imported word for privacy without understanding its meaning. "Concepts of privacy in Japan are very different to those in the UK. It's seen as anti-social to tell a member of your group that you don't want to talk about something because it's private.

"Japanese and British cultures are probably as unlike each other as any two cultures in the world. Each culture has a perception of how we behave and this didn't really matter in a pre-Internet world but with the Internet we're all there in the same place."

Mr McRobb added: "It is important to understand how such a fundamental concept as privacy can be mutually understood and acted upon in two very different cultures.

"The project will examine how British Internet users interpret and respond to online privacy policies compared to their Japanese counterparts.

"Individuals must assess the risks of exposing personal data before engaging in online behaviour that requires them to divulge private information.

"Businesses and other organisations must strike a balance between gathering sufficient information for their purposes and antagonising those whose personal data is being collected." This year's ETHICOMP conference is being held at Meiji University in Tokyo, Japan, between Tuesday 27 March and Thursday 29 March.

ETHICOMP 2007 has the overall theme of 'Globalisation: Bridging the Global Nature of Information and Communication Technology and the Local Nature of Human Beings'. Seventy papers have been accepted for the conference, covering topics as diverse as electronic democracy, the regulation of CCTV, computer crime and the impact of the Human Rights Act on privacy in the workplace.

This is the ninth ETHICOMP conference and marks the first time that the event has been held outside of Europe. The conference series was launched in 1995 by DMU's Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility (CCSR). Professor Simon Rogerson, Director of the CCSR, and Professor Terry Bynum, visiting Professor at DMU and Director of Southern Connecticut State University's Research Center on Computing and Society, founded the series and are Joint Directors.

Professor Rogerson said: "ETHICOMP 2007 is set to be as thought provoking as ever. The series has a reputation for covering issues that are topical both within ICT circles and the wider world, and this is again the case this year with papers covering themes such as electronic voting and the ethical concerns surrounding young people's use of the Internet."

In its second decade, ETHICOMP will include special "reaching out" conferences to provide a forum for scholars from diverse cultures. ETHICOMP 2007 and ETHICOMP Working Conference 2007 hosted by Yunnan University in China the following week are the first conferences in the exciting new initiative.

De Montfort University is launching an innovative BA (Hons) degree in Society and Information, which will focus on social and cultural issues surrounding technology such as: concepts of information; computing and ethics; the social context of ICT; e-commerce; and the regulation of information in today's society. The course will also look at the development and impact of websites such as MySpace and YouTube.

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.