Software Agents  

Rick Dietrich

Security & Privacy


Intelligent Objects


The Future


    Software Agents, Bots, and  Intelligent Objects are all wonderful and exciting new technologies, but aren't automated, autonomous, user-authorized agents a danger to their users and others?  Sure, I can set-up my agent with personal information and tell it to go looking, but how do I know that the agent isn't "leaking" my information to other agents, or even to companies that made the agent!  In the most extreme of cases, perhaps at this point just in science-fiction, how do we know what our agents are really up to and if  we are designing them to be more and more agent-like (autonomous and self-motivated), how do we know our agents haven't developed or been made with unique selves capable of doing who knows what.

    A further worry, even if our user agents aren't alive or are secretly programmed to leak information back to their creators, there is still an issue, not unlike real world commerce, of giving away information when we, the user, don't want it given away.  As part of any kind of communication, we have a presence, but furthermore, we must give something of ourselves to others in the communication, or we aren't really participating.  The very act of sending an agent to look for information on Shakespeare's Hamlet, perferably from an English Professor, gives away information that that agent's user is perhaps a college student seeking a quick way to write a paper.  As people should now be aware, computers are as dumb or as intelligent as their maker's make them, so unless agents are made to "know" of what is lawful and illegal, all kinds of commerce could go on that would be hard to stop and relatively easy to perpetrate. 

    This issue is very broad and too extensive to go into, but for a more in-depth look, try  checking out what the people at Firefly Network, Inc. have done.

Firefly is committed to maintaining its leadership role in the ongoing effort to create an environment of trust on the Internet for the benefit of people and businesses. As part of this commitment, Firefly has played a significant role in driving two industry standards: 

P3P - submitted in May 1997 as the Open Profiling Standard (OPS) - delivers trusted and personalized applications with privacy to individuals and businesses 

ICE (Information & Content Exchange protocol) delivers trusted and personalized networked business-to-business applications with privacy

Not to mention their Privacy Resources page with links to various trust surveys and more.

See also The Future link concerning possible consequences of autonomous agent technology getting out of control.


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This project was produced for PSY 380, Social Psychology of Cyberspace, Spring, 1998, at Miami University.
This document was created April 19, 1998 and last modified on  .  This document has been accessed  times since April 15, 2002.   Please send comments and suggestions to