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Published on Oct 1, 2014
When we browse the web, data about us is collected, traded and put to use in creative ways. The Panopticon derived its terrible power because the inmates did not know when they were being observed. Similarly it is the utter lack of transparency that makes web tracking problematic. The Princeton Web Transparency and Accountability Project (http://webtap.princeton.edu) aims to reverse engineer online data collection, flow, and use. The goal is correct market failures in online privacy, foster accountability for privacy, security, and ethical failures, and enable a more informed public debate. Our central technical thesis is that a single modular platform can enable a variety of experiments to reverse engineer privacy-impacting practices. In these experiments an automated, simulated user (i.e., a bot) browses the web, and we monitor and analyze flows of personal data. In this talk I’ll describe our work so far, the challenges ahead, and how you can help.
Arvind Narayanan (Ph.D. 2009) is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Princeton. He studies information privacy and security and has a side-interest in technology policy. His research has shown that data anonymization is broken in fundamental ways, for which he jointly received the 2008 Privacy Enhancing Technologies Award. Narayanan leads the Princeton Web Transparency and Accountability project that aims to uncover how companies are collecting and using our personal information. He also studies the security and stability of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies.
Narayanan is an affiliated faculty member at the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton and an affiliate scholar at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society. You can follow him on Twitter at @random_walker.